THERE WAS a need for legal reforms to build systems in a post-Covid modern Maharashtra, as detailed in Vidhi’s ‘Briefing book – Fifteen suggested legal reforms for Maharashtra’, said Dr Vijay Kelkar, former chairperson, Thirteenth Finance Commission. An independent think tank, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, conducting legal research to improve laws for better governance launched a new office in Maharashtra on Tuesday.
“There is need for a litigation policy at the state and central levels to control the ever rising rate of litigation, for conducting a thorough cost-analysis benefit of every new law or policy introduced, and for introducing a sunset clause in every Act to ensure that laws do not become redundant in future,” Dr Kelkar said in his keynote address, adding that he was certain that ‘Vidhi’ would be a “pioneer and pathfinder” in leading necessary legal reforms for the state.
Dr Kelkar said the Briefing Book for Maharashtra suggested legal reforms that focused on coherent public health emergency legislation, which adequately empowers the third tier at the forefront of managing Covid-19, the need for judicial reforms unequivocally highlighted during the pandemic as courts struggled to keep up with a world that went online overnight; and similar relevant suggestions in areas such as environment, inclusive education and land laws.
On a discussion about balancing the scales between necessary legal intervention and ensuring administrative freedom of the executive, former chief secretary Ajoy Mehta said every problem did not need a law and that legal intervention could end up curtailing administrative freedom, while Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High court said the judiciary must intervene if there was a failure in dispensing administrative duties by the executive, such as during the pandemic.
Justice Patel also underlined the need for finding solutions and devising mechanisms to ensure that courts functioned effectively and swiftly around the pandemic, which was likely here to stay, to ensure access to justice for all.
“The role of public health workers and preventive healthcare has been largely undermined in our current society. Public health is like the butcher’s knife, not the surgeon’s scalpel, and the power of law provides an excellent handle to the knife. Further, if the state does not apply itself fully, the courts must intervene,” said Dr Anand Bang from SEARCH.
Dr Rahela Khorakiwala from Vidhi Maharashtra said the use of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which were ill-equipped to handle Covid-19, has made it clear that we need to introduce a public health law in the state focusing on the community, introducing rights and duties for the public. We must have legislation at the local level to take necessary action during such emergencies.