Under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950, every citizen of this country has the right to constitutional remedies when their fundamental rights have been violated by the State. These remedies may be accessed by approaching the respective High Court. However, during the lockdown imposed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, these constitutional guarantees remained only on paper in Tamil Nadu. Both the Chennai and Madurai benches of the Madras High Court and their Subordinates Courts have shut their doors, of course with the primary intention of controlling the spread of COVID-19. However, the courts and the legal process have become completely inaccessible for the common man, especially the most vulnerable sections of the society like individuals from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.
The COVID-19 outbreak has severely impacted labourers in India especially those working in the informal sector who constitute 90% of India’s workforce. The recent cases in Surat and Mumbai of the unemployed migrant labourers seeking to go back to their hometowns are worrisome. According to the International Labour Organization’s report, Indian informal economy is looking at a job loss for 400 million people.
The Karnataka High Court has taken up a public interest litigation on relief measures during the COVID lockdown, ranging from access to food and essential items, access to medicines, animal welfare and parole for prisoners. In these ongoing PILs, CLPR has filed an Intervention Application on behalf of Ondede, an organisation working for the rights of transgender persons, and the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, which works closely with SC/ST communities especially manual scavenging groups, tribal and forest-dwelling communities, slum dweller and other vulnerable groups.