24 Aug 2020 19:49 IST

We need to ensure that the marginalised get social justice: SC Judge

At the IIMB e-talk, Justice Madan B Lokur said that the pandemic exposed many social inequalities

In the inaugural address at the 15th International Conference on Public Policy and Management, hosted by IIM Bangalore’s Centre for Public Policy, Justice Madan B Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, said: “We are still struggling with ensuring social justice to all. The pandemic, the huge migration of workers, unemployment and the financial crunch has shown this up starkly.”




“While it is hard to define social justice, I believe it means equal treatment for everybody in all walks of life and in all spheres of life. For instance, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom to assemble peaceably without arms, equal opportunity for employment, freedom of profession, should be available to all — irrespective of caste, community, religion, gender, and so on” Justice Lokur explained.

Justice Lokur addressed four kinds of instances dealt with by SC in his talk:

Where laws exist but aren’t implemented in letter or spirit — child abuse, manual scavenging, environmental pollution, and so on.

Where there is a delay in enacting the existing laws — sexual harassment of women at the workplace that resulted in the 1998 Vishaka guidelines, but the law was enacted only 2013, 15 years after the SC’s order, and the same with abortion limit increased from 20 to 24 weeks, the concern of human trafficking, and so on.

Where there is no law but there is a need to make a law — widows of Vrindavan, prison reforms where discussions have been going on since the 1980s, rights of those in the unorganised sector, tea estate workers, and so on

Where the Supreme Court has creatively interpreted the Constitution of India and has given meaning to certain aspects of social justice — laws against discrimination of the LGBT community, prevention of child marriage, and so on.

Access to justice

“Over the years, from 1950 onwards, we have come to accept a larger number of communities/ groups which are disadvantaged. This recognition came to the courts in the early 1980s when a petition was filed in the Supreme Court on bonded labour in mines,” he said, drawing attention to the fact that the Supreme Court took it up and issued a judgement that freed almost 30,000 people. “However, bonded labour still exists, exploitation of women and children still exists — what are we doing about all this and what social justice are we talking about?”

Observing that access to justice is not easy, Justice Lokur referred to the Bhagalpur incident where suspected criminals were blinded by the police and spoke of how the Supreme Court gave the right to access justice, where public could send petitions on post cards, that gave an opening to large sections of society to approach the courts and raise issues of social justice.

Courts cannot keep silent

Listing several instances where the Supreme Court intervened to ensure social justice to marginalised and depressed sections of society, he placed special emphasis on the need to ensure social justice for children and protect them against sexual abuse and other forms of abuse and exploitation.

He stressed on the importants of courts and how they cannot remain silent when laws are not being implemented. “It is our constitutional obligation to ensure social justice for all. Courts cannot forget the theory of checks and balances. The Executive cannot call this overreach of the courts. If the Executive does its job, nobody will come to the courts,” he argued.

Justice Lokur hoped that the concerns of the vast majority of the Indian population would be included in public policy. He also expressed his happiness t that research institutions like IIM Bangalore engaging actively with the public policy issues, including judicial reforms and process re-engineering to address current challenges.

Earlier in the day, Prof Rishikesha T Krishnan, Director, IIM Bangalore, and Prof Anil B Suraj, Chairperson, Post Graduate Programme in Public Policy & Management, delivered the welcome address and introduced the chief guest, respectively. Prof M S Sriram, Chairperson, Centre for Public Policy at IIMB, thanked Justice Lokur and set the context for the three-day conference.