SC clarifies purpose of suo motu cognisance not to supplant judicial process in high courts

THE Supreme Court Tuesday forcefully clarified that the purpose of taking suo motu cognisance by it of the Covid19 crisis was not to supplant or to substitute the judicial process on the subject in several high courts across the country.

High courts have a robust understanding of ground realities and are grappling with the practical issues and problems which have arisen in their jurisdictions as a result of the outbreak of the pandemic, the apex court said.

“The jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution is a valuable safeguard for the protection of fundamental and legal rights. The jurisdiction of this court under Article 32 extends to the protection of fundamental rights. The high courts are well suited to make an assessment of the ground realities which prevail in each state and to find flexible solutions to deal with practical concerns of and the serious hardships faced by the citizens”, the court said.

The clarification was issued by a bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud yesterday; the court order was made available only today.

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The bench, which also had Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat, said there was no reason or justification to interdict the exercise of the jurisdiction of the high courts in responding to the human problems faced by the citizens in the states and union territories and to find solutions with the cooperation of the authorities.

The top court also clarified the purpose behind taking the suo motu cognisance by it.

It said in a time of national crisis, such as the one which is confronting the country today as a consequence of the pandemic, the Supreme Court cannot stand aside as a mute spectator.

“This court has a constitutional duty to protect the fundamental rights traceable to Part III of the Constitution. The role of this court in the present situation is complementary to the role and functions being performed by the high courts. Neither is intended to substitute the other”, the court said.

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It added there may be certain national issues or issues of a systemic nature which have their origin beyond the boundaries of a particular state.

These issues, the court said, which travel beyond state boundaries will require a comprehensive national approach if we are to alleviate the immense suffering caused by the pandemic.

“It is with the consciousness of this duty that this court has assumed jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution”, the court said.

Eventually, the court also said that high courts should not feel restrained by the pendency of these proceedings in passing appropriate orders to deal with the emerging situation in each state or union territory concerned, as and when it is necessary to do so.

On April 23, the top court had issued notice asking to show cause why uniform orders cannot be passed by the top court?

This moved was criticised by several senior advocates, saying that high courts were best suited to deal with the Covid19 crisis and were, in fact, already monitoring the situation.

Click here to read the order