FOLLOWING criticism from a section of the Bar, senior counsel Harish Salve recused as amicus curiae from the Covid-19 management case initiated suo motu by the Supreme Court last week. ‘It’s the most sensitive case this court will look into. I don’t want this case to be decided under a shadow that I knew the CJI from school and college days… and allegations that there is a conflict of interest,’ Salve told the apex court. One can’t have any quarrel with the Supreme Court’s decision to accede to Salve’s recusal request. But what baffled many is the opposition to the top court stepping into Covid-19 management. Many senior members of the Bar, including Supreme Court Bar Association president Vikas Singh, wanted High Courts to be allowed to deal with the situation arising out of the pandemic as they were best suited for the purpose.
Noting that High Courts were exercising jurisdiction ‘in the best interest’, the top court pointed out their orders were creating confusion and diversion of resources. It said the orders passed by them ‘may have the effect of accelerating and prioritising the services to a certain set of people and slowing down the availability of these resources to certain other groups… local, regional or otherwise.’
During the migrant workers’ crisis caused by the nationwide lockdown last year, the Supreme Court was criticised for its delayed intervention. In this background, its direction to the Centre to place before it a national plan with regard to the supply of oxygen and essential drugs, the method and manner of vaccination and the declaration of the lockdown is understandable. Also, it has clarified that it didn’t want the High Courts to stop dealing with issues arising in the states. It simply boils down to a trust deficit in the Supreme Court as an institution meant to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. Why is it that senior members of the Bar and civil society leaders prefer High Courts over the top court in times of crises? Given its vital role in preserving democracy in India, the Supreme Court needs to address this trust deficit.