The Supreme Court’s move to set up a social justice bench—one that takes up cases relating to the rights of the people granted through the Constitution and various legislations—seems to be in the right earnest. For one, the special bench will ensure that such cases are decided faster. Second, it will make sure that what has been promised to the people in terms of welfare, whether it is food through the PDS or the Food Security Act or even medical care, is delivered. Third, its focus will be on the specific concerns that afflict women and children, two very vulnerable groups.
However, the ambit of social justice could be very liberally interpreted. For instance, will divestment and privatisation of PSUs be treated as a social justice issue if the trade unions were to contend that workers’ rights are violated in the process? If so, then many cases could be made to fit the bill and we would be back to square one on the question of addressing pendency. Second, the stated intent is also deliberations on the “responsibilities of the state”. This becomes fertile ground for judicial overreach, especially in a scenario where crucial reforms, proposed and underway, are set to redefine the role of the state in the lives of citizens. Therefore, the apex court must first address the definitional issues foreseen.