A section of the legal community is livid over a Bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde taking suo motu cognizance of the Covid matters pending before the High Courts and transferring them to the apex court.
The most critical comment came from former Supreme Court Bar Association president and senior advocate Dushyant Dav. He said the Supreme Court’s intervention "is a very serious matter; why has the Supreme Court done so? Is it to help the government to hide its failures?" He further said the Supreme Court will be well advised to back off.
Another senior advocate Ravindra Shrivastava tweeted that he was appalled to see the constitutional office of the Attorney General being undermined by the CJI, who chose senior advocate Harish Salve as an amicus (friend of the court) over the AG, to seek assistance.
The senior lawyers said they see no reason why the Supreme Court should question proceedings before the High Courts, with the CJI claiming that it was causing "confusion and diversion of resources."
The online Livelaw.in legal service compiled reactions of the senior lawyers after it noted that social media and messenger groups were abuzz with remarks against the Supreme Court.
Even senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who was the attorney general during the first Modi dispensation, said it is a retrograde step since it will make the High Courts redundant. He said: "Our High Courts are fully competent to deal with the issues as they unfold in the concerned states. Local conditions and local problems can be best addressed by them."
Rohatgi also said that the Supreme Court's order granting ad interim stay on the Allahabad High Court direction to impose lockdown in five UP cities to contain Covid-19 surge was wrong.
Former Supreme Court Bar Association President and senior advocate Dushyant Dave said: "Such a Supreme Court's suo moto intervention is uncalled for and unjustified since it amounts to restraining the High Courts from discharging their constitutional duties."
He said his objection is for the simple reason that the Supreme Court has been sitting as a silent spectator to the happenings in the country for the last few months. They should have seen the writing on the wall. The Supreme Court, if at all concerned about the citizens, should have intervened suo motu earlier to ensure that the government was functioning properly and adequate hospitals, vaccines, medicines and oxygen supplies were available for Covid patients.
"The government has been sleeping and unfortunately the Supreme Court also has been sleeping during this period. Therefore, morally Supreme Court is unjustified in intervening when the High Courts decided to intervene," Dave said, adding that the High Courts are independent, not subordinate to the Supreme Court."
Dave was equally critical of appointment of senior advocate Harish Salve as an amicus curiae, "particularly because he has been a non-resident and living in London for a long time and he is not in India, nor does he know the realities of India, the sufferings and pains of the Indian people."
"Salve is a very able lawyer and I have no doubts about his abilities. Salve is a very close friend of Chief Justice Bobde -- a childhood friend. There is no reason why Salve should again and again be appointed by Chief Justice as amicus curiae," he said.
"Whatever be his abilities, frankly Salve has conflict of interest because he represents the biggest industrial houses of the country. His statement to reopen the Sterlite plant itself disentitles him to carry on as amicus curiae. Moreover, Salve's proximity to the government of the day is well known. He has appeared and defended the government in a large number of cases during the outbreak," Dave affirmed.
Former Patna High Court judge and senior advocate Anjana Prakash said: "It is unfortunate. What was the illegality in the High Court order? Despite the hierarchical system of courts, the High Court is not a subordinate court of the Supreme Court whose every order has to meet the approval of the Supreme Court."
Senior advocate Chander Uday Singh said he was surprised why the Supreme Court stepped into six separate proceedings being heard on a war footing by six high courts. "This comes at a time when over-centralised decisions making is widely acknowledged to have failed in the fight against Covid-19."
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde regretted that the SC is undermining the efforts of the High Courts to hold the state governments accountable in respect of Covid management. He said: "Those state governments may now feel emboldened to resist High Courts that seem determined to hold their Covid response to strict constitutional scrutiny."