‘Disappointed With Supreme Court’: Former SC Justice Madan Lokur 

The retired judge criticised the way the cases relating to migrant workers have been heard by current CJI SA Bobde.

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In the first outspoken criticism of the Supreme Court by a former highly regarded judge of the Court, Justice Madan Lokur said he is “disappointed” by the Court’s functioning. He said “It is not fulfilling its constitutional functions adequately.”

He said “the Supreme Court of India is capable of doing  a good job but I think they need to introspect, they need to sit down, brainstorm and figure out how to go ahead.” He said: “Certainly it should be more pro-active than it has been.”

In an interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Justice Lokur answered a range of questions covering the Court’s inadequate enforcement of the right to life of migrant workers, its prioritization of cases on the basis of which some are heard immediately and others indefinitely deferred and the inadequate exercise of its power of judicial review over govt policies and action.


‘The Court Let Down Migrant Workers’

Speaking to The Wire about the 3 weeks the Court took to dispose of a petition on the right to life of migrant workers, Justice Lokur said: “Yes, I think the Court let down these migrants. Certainly.”

Referring to the Court’s anodyne request to the govt to “take such steps as it finds fit to help the migrant workers”, Justice Lokur said: “ I think the Court should have and could have gone much further.” He said for the Supreme Court to say “whatever steps you’re taking is good enough is not an answer particularly in a situation like this.”

Asked by The Wire whether he agreed with Chief Justice Bobde’s stand (expressed in an interview to The Hindu on 27 April) that “this is not a situation where declaration of rights has much priority or as much importance as in other times”, Justice Lokur said: “To say that fundamental rights are not so important today because of the prevailing situation is the wrong way of looking at it.”

Justice Lokur said views similar to Chief Justice Bobde’s had been voiced by the majority in the ADM Jabalpur case but time had proven the minority view of Justice Khanna to be correct. He said:

“You can’t say today let’s forget about the right to life. If you can’t forget about the right to life during the Emergency I don’t see how you can forget about it today.”

Speaking to The Wire about the way the Supreme Court has deferred cases to do with migrant workers or NREGA payments but heard within 15 hours Arnab Goswami’s petition seeking protection against multiple FIRs, Justice Lokur said “it was very very wrong of the Supreme Court to have taken up that case without it fitting in the category of extreme urgency.”

He explained:

“Given the situation nothing was more important than the right of the migrants wanting to go back home, their shelter, their food, their wages. This was of crucial importance and extreme urgency. Against that you place a case where (perhaps) 10 FIRs are filed. What is the urgency? The police have not even acted upon these FIRs. The possibility of an arrest is almost zero…if you compare the plight of the migrants, the plight of the poor, as against this there is just no comparison at all.  I think it’s very very wrong on the part of the Supreme Court to have taken up that case without it fitting in the category of extreme urgency.”

A Matter of CJI Bobde’s Priorities?

Asked if such prioritizations were a reflection of Chief Justice Bobde’s priorities and thinking, Justice Lokur told The Wire: “The buck has to stop somewhere. Either it stops with the Secretary General or it stops with the Chief Justice…ultimately the buck has to stop somewhere…it would be a good idea if the Chief Justice conducts some sort of enquiry to find out what went wrong.”

Speaking to The Wire about how the Supreme Court has repeatedly deferred all the constitutional petitions pertaining to the change in status of Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act, Justice Lokur said: “It’s difficult to understand. These cases are very important because they have the character of affecting a very large section of the people. Huge sections of society are impacted. These cases should have been taken up on a priority. I’m frankly not able to understand why that priority has not been given to these cases.”


Justice Lokur spoke in very similar terms about the Supreme Court’s repeated deferral of habeas corpus cases. He said to The Wire:

“This is a matter of extreme urgency. A person is kept in detention without a trial for months together. These habeas corpus petitions should be heard. How much time is it going to take? One hour? Two hours? May be a day? Why not hear them?”

Asked by The Wire if he accepted an argument made by the lawyer Prashant Bhushan that the Supreme Court has adopted “ a hope and trust jurisprudence…placing its entire trust in the govt” and “surrendered its power of judicial review of the govt’s policies, directives and actions,” Justice Lokur disagreed with the word “surrendered” but then went to say “it is not fulfilling its constitutional functions adequately.”

He said: “A person has a right. If he has that right it has to be enforced. That’s it. You can’t say I hope and trust that somebody will enforce that right on his behalf. The person has a right. Why are you not enforcing it? It (the Supreme Court) is not fulfilling its constitutional functions adequately.”

Finally asked if he was disappointed with the Supreme Court, Justice Lokur said: “Yes, I am disappointed. It is disappointing. Certainly.”

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