Extraordinary situations demands extraordinary initiatives. The legal fraternity has to act together and serve the society not as a lawyer, not as a judge but as part of the society. Much has been written about Covid-19 and its consequences. Apparently, as on date, lockdown and self-quarantine seems to be the only way out to avoid spread of the infection from one to many and from becoming a community transmitted disease, the third stage, as the expert say. India is observing 21 days nationwide lockdown since March 24th midnight, which in all probabilities is likely to be extended further. Those who are capable financially have stocked their ration, medicines, fruits, vegetables and other necessary items of their daily need in sufficient quantity and now they mainly have to be worried that they do not catch the infection, but majority of our citizens have to worry on many fronts than only being worried not to get infected.
We all have been witnessing the post lockdown crisis, the poorest amongst us, the migrant workers, daily wage earners, construction workers, domestic workers etc. are the worst affected. For a big percentage of our population, who are otherwise on animal existence, it is just a survival issue. They are more worried about the basic two time meal than the fear of infection. When most of us are fighting our personal battle to combat boredom of sitting at home and make sure that we are maintaining social distancing, avoiding coming out from our houses, learning news ways to be cheerful, we see the other india struggling to stay out of poverty. For them social distancing and maintaining hygiene is a luxuray.
Our doctors and health workers are facing shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and quarantine facility after attenting the victims of Covid-19. It is saddening that in many areas the doctors are not getting the basics. We see the reports from Madhya Pradesh where the doctors are sleeping in their cars just to avoid infection to their family members.
It is true that both Central and State goverments are doing their bit whatever they can and would love to assume that they are doing their best. The civil society as they always do, in any such circumstance, are again at their best and trying to reach out to each one in need, but as we know that is not an easy task to do or an easy goal to achieve.
The members of the legal community, including the judges, are the most influential segment of the society. Among us, we have best brains in the country, people who have one to one contacts with policy makers and politicians. The legal infrastrure, from capital city to the taluk level is all pervading, literally an independent parallel hierarchy of legal governance. Despite such huge infrastructure, are we doing enough to combat the ills of the society? It is time that we the judges and lawyers to come out as one to serve the society in all possible manner in this unprecedented crises. We must realise that we are falling way short of fulfilling our duties as a part of the society , if we feel contended by filing some Public Interest Petitions, by holding some urgent hearings, by making the courts functional by way of video conferencing and by passing some urgent and very important orders. I do not mean to say that all that is not important or not relevant or not required to be done, but we cannot allow ourselves to sit quiet by just doing that alone.
In this unprecedented crisis , when the areas of concern are multifocal, the efforts of government alone would not be sufficient. We should collectively offer ourselves to the service of society, Contribution of money to the Prime Minister or Chief Minister Relief Funds is one of the welcome move, but we also need to collectively work to distribute dry ration and cooked food to the people in desperate needs . Indeed, supply is happening in many parts of the country but there are many areas without any checks and balances. Since the poverty is the biggest crisis, we should take the supply of ration as a mission. We the lawyers, being privileged members of the society, should call up the officers of local governments and enquire about the food safety measures in the respective areas. As on date, the ration distribution work is being done by the state governments as well as various civil society groups. Few Supreme Court Lawyers are involved in collecting funds and distributing dry ration and cooked food, but the experience of the group shows that the ration distribution is completely unorganised, nobody knows the exact areas of need and who all are supplying. There is complete lack of coordination of teams available on ground, there should be a mechanism to keep a tab on various sources of supplies to avoid duplication. As time would pass, supply of requisite medicines and other basic necessities at various households including the cooking gas cylinders would be another concern. In coming days there would be hard pressing need for cash for a particular section of the society for their survival. We the fraternity, should now must play both our roles, that is our role as judges and lawyers in courts and simultaneously our role as a responsible citizens of the country by fielding ourselves on ground.
The Supreme Court recently got a brand new state of art building and the lawyers have got the chamber building just across the road of the Supreme Court , where the possession of the chambers yet not given to the lawyers. These are huge structures which are lying empty. supreme court and the lawyers body can offer major portions of these buildings to be used for quarantine centres and also for accommodation for the doctors who are on duty for corona patients. The Allahabad High Court has recently offered its guest house for providing accommodation to Doctors who are not permitted to go home. Two of their kitchens are functional to provide cooked food to needy persons through district administration. This is very welcome initiative by the Allahabad High court. The supreme court, high courts and district courts canteens can be opened for providing cooked food. This would help the canteen employees as well. The courts can also offer their vans for transporting cooked food and ration and some of their official cars to help the hospitals in picking and dropping their doctors. We as a nation will have to think for another 6 months as crises period and need to put all our resources together for its best utilisation to fight out and win this battle. Together we can, we shall and we will.
Views are personal Only.
(Author is a practicing advocate of Supreme Court of India)