Mumbai, Sept 3: The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Maharashtra government to clarify if lawyers will be permitted to use the suburban railway network in the city, especially now that the HC has resumed physical hearings. A bench led by Justice Amjad sayed asked the state to file a reply on this within a week.
The direction came while the court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and several intervention applications filed by lawyers in the high court seeking that they be allowed to travel to courts by suburban trains amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 21 this year, the state government had filed an affidavit in the high court, informing that it could not permit lawyers to travel by local trains as it had restricted the number of trains and passengers as a safety measure due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The state had said that restrictions on local trains had been imposed to “prevent overcrowding, and maintain social distancing” and lawyers could not claim any legal right to use them. The petitioners also made a representation before the state government that was rejected on August 5.
The petitioners, however,challenged the state’s decision and the court had asked the state to file a reply on the same on August 8. On Thursday, however, the petitioners pointed out that the state was yet to file its reply.
They reiterated the need for permission to travel by the trains considering that the Bombay High Court had resumed physical hearings. The petitioners’ counsels Uday Warunjikar and Shyam Dewani told the court that now that the HC had resumed physical hearings, and several lower courts had already been permitting physical filings since the last few months, several lawyers were facing difficulties in reaching the courts.
The bench then asked the state if there was “any proposal currently under consideration to give permission” to lawyers for train travel. The state said it had not considered the same yet. “Currently, there is no such proposal. But the Unlock process has already started in the state. Gradually, we will see. We will consider all these issues,” Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said.
The petitioners had earlier told the HC that several lawyers resided in the suburbs in Mumbai, and that they were undergoing tremendous inconvenience in traveling to courts and their offices due to restrictions on local train travel. At the time, the state said that there were no restrictions on the use of personal vehicles, except for the number of passengers in one vehicle.
The lawyers, thus, were free to commute in private vehicles as long as they wore masks and took other COVID-19 related safety precautions, it had said. The HC, which conducted hearings through video- conferencing during the lockdown, resumed physical hearings only for criminal appeals from August 31.
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