If the call of the constitutional conscience is to retain meaning, the judges must continuously recall themselves of its value through their tenure. The phrase of this court as the sentinel on the qui vive may have become weather-beaten.

The remark came in a judgment given by Hon’ble Justice DY Chandrachud on 1st October 2020 in the case of Gujarat Mazdoor sabha & anr. v. Union of India (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 708 of 2020). In this judgment, he observed the notification issued by Gujarat Labour and Employment Department as void, granting exemptions to factories in Gujarat from provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 relating to daily working hours, weekly working hours, break for rest, and spread overs of adult workers and payment of overtime wages at double rate viz section 59. Hon’ble Court held that according to Article 21 and 23 of the Constitution of India,1950, the notifications, in denying humane working conditions and overtime working wages provided by law, are an insult to worker’s right to life and right against forced labor.  

The observation about sentinel on the qui vive is as follows: -

The Constitution allows for economic experiments. Judicial review is justifiably held off in matters of policy, particularly economic policy. But the Directive Principles of State Policy cannot be reduced to oblivion by a sleight of interpretation. To a worker who has faced the brunt of the pandemic and is currently labouring in a workplace without the luxury of physical distancing, economic dignity based on the rights available under the statute is the least that this Court can ensure them...Justice Patanjali Sastry immortalized that phrase of this court as the sentinel on the qui vive in our jurisprudence by recognizing it in State of Madras vs. V G Row. The phrase may have become weather-beaten in articles, seminars and now, in the profusion of webinars, amidst the changing times. Familiar as the phrase sounds, judges must constantly remind themselves of its value through their tenures, if the call of the constitutional conscience is to retain meaning.

‘Sentinel on the qui vive’ is usually translated as a watchful guardian. Qui Vive means watchful or alert. Hon’ble Justice Shastry in his judgment in State of Madras v. VG Row. Union of India & State (1952 SCR 597), had made the following observations: -

What is sometimes overlooked, that our Constitution contains express provisions for judicial review of legislation as to its conformity with the Constitution, unlike as in America where the Supreme Court has assumed extensive powers of reviewing legislative acts undercover of the widely interpreted "due process" clause in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. If then, the courts in this country face up to such important and none too easy task, it is not out of any desire to tilt at legislative authority in a crusader's spirit, but in the discharge of a duty plainly laid upon them by the Constitution. This is especially true as regards the "fundamental rights,” as to which this court has been given the role of Sentinel on the Qui Vive. 

"While the Court naturally attaches great weight to the legislative judgment, it cannot desert its own duty to determine finally the constitutionality of an impugned statute."

Read Judgment here [pdf]

This news has been reported by Urvi Yadav