Since March 25, when India was put under lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, the Supreme Court had come under intense criticism for its reluctance to pass strong directions to the government to remedy specific aspects of the crisis. The criticism was especially strong regarding the court’s decisions in pleas relating to the plight of migrant worker, as millions of labourers and their families walked hundreds of kilometers to their hometowns, most often without proper food and water.

Last week, a day after 22 lawyers wrote to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde urging him to intervene in the crisis, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the workers’ situation. It passed several directions, including one to ensure that the workers would not be asked to pay for the transport to their home villages and towns.

The Covid-19 crisis has opened deep divisions among judges and among lawyers on what the court should do. While former judges have expressed opposing views in newspaper columns, lawyers have fought an acerbic battle of words.

Judges and former judges

Writing in The Wire on May 28, retired Supreme Court judge MB Lokur gave the Supreme Court an “F” grade for its handling of the migrant crisis.

In a sharp piece, he said:

“Images that have haunted...

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