Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta has hit back at "unwarranted" criticism of the judiciary, stating that the Supreme Court of India has been functioning and delivering justice daily even during the lockdown. He said that though virtual courts can't substitute physical hearings, they have reduced geographical barriers with lawyers and litigants joining proceedings from anywhere in the world.
“I do not think there would be any democracy as large as India in the world where the judiciary has functioned daily giving access to justice to everyone in the country — right from trial courts to Supreme Court of India and I can vouch for the Supreme Court,” Mr. Mehta said at a virtual session organized by the Akhil Bhartiya Adhivakta Parishad on Sunday.
The courts have been functioning through the virtual court system from March 25 to date.
“The judges of the Supreme Court, many of whom are more than 60 years old, have not taken a single day off. They could have said that their age may not permit them to expose themselves to COVID-19. But they worked with all precautions which could have been taken. Many petitions before the Supreme Court were avoidable ones and the court had the freedom to impose fine, but it refrained from doing that,” Mr. Mehta said.
Presiding over to a virtual interaction the former and serving Additional Solicitors General of India organized by the Adhivakta Parishad, Mehta opined that why should a lockdown not be imposed once a month to introspect and spend time with families.
The Solicitor General (SG) commended Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership for navigating India through a global health pandemic with minimal damage. Having closely seen government's work and policymaking as its second seniormost law officer, SG said there was no area which the government didn't touch upon or take preemptive measures to tackle the situation.
His views were mirrored by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, who referred to the top court's observations in the Prashant Bhushan contempt case, where it was mentioned that numerous cases were heard and decided via virtual hearings during the lockdown.
ASGs Vikramjeet Banerjee and KM Nataraj hailed the apex court for resisting attempts by vested interests to impose their philosophy on the crisis management system during the pandemic and allowing the government to execute policy decisions taken on cogent scientific and medical grounds.
ASG Vikramjeet Banerjee pointed out a lack of infrastructure in trial courts and problems faced by its lawyers to participate in virtual hearings, urging inclusion of lawyers in the MSME category to avail credit and secure financial aid during this crisis.
ASG Aman Lekhi stated that the pandemic led to a lockdown, not to a shutdown as the system remained functional throughout because of lawyers and civil society. He said that increased surveillance and restrictions on movement were being dubbed as attempts to impose a totalitarian regime, but courts have dealt with these issues seriously.
ASGs Sanjay Jain, SV Raju, Balbir Singh, RS Suri, R Venkataraman, Jayant Sud, and former ASGs Pinky Anand and ANS Nadkarni were also a part of the interaction.