SC social justice bench holds first hearing

SC social justice bench holds first hearing

Social activist and Narmada Bachao Aandolan founder-member Medha Patkar on Friday became the first person to appear before a social justice bench of the Supreme Court.

The bench started taking up cases pertaining to shelter homes for destitutes, welfare of construction workers and exploitation of children, among others.

The bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit asked the Centre and the Delhi government to provide adequate number of night shelters for the homeless before the winter got harsher, take immediate steps to eradicate child labour and implement welfare schemes for construction workers.

The court directed the National Mission Management Unit to hold meetings on or before December 31 with chief secretaries of all states to set up night shelters.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan contended that there were 1.25 lakh homeless people in Delhi but there were only 4,620 night shelters.

At the outset, Patkar said that she was privileged to appear before the special bench. The court asked her to file a short note on the 2002 plea of Narmada Bachao Aandolan and others by December 24.

The court then took up a 2005 petition filed by Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram seeking welfare of tribals and asked the Centre to file a comprehensive affidavit on the issues arising out of the PIL. This matter was followed by the hearing of a PIL on exploitation of children in circuses in which the apex court had banned their participation three years ago.

After briefly hearing the issues arising in matters like child labour, child trafficking and child bondage, the bench directed the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare to act as a nodal agency and convene a meeting of secretaries concerned of states and Union territories to ensure compliance of its directions.

The first sitting of the bench also saw imposition of fine of Rs 25,000 on the BJP's student-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad for not filing its response in a PIL filed by it highlighting shortage of hostels for students belonging to the SC/ST category.

In a historic move, Chief Justice of India H L Dattu set up a special two-judge bench to deal with cases relating to “social justice” ranging from the availability of night shelters for the homeless to whether children in government schools are being provided free mid-day meals and the efficacy of the public distribution system which is meant to provide poor families access to subsidised food grain. 

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