The Bombay High Court on Wednesday said the Maharashtra government must stop any political rally, which flouted COVID-19 protocols, from being carried out in the state amid the ongoing pandemic. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni asked how such rallies, including one held earlier this month over the name of an upcoming airport in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, were allowed when the state government had prohibited large gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The bench said if the state is unable to prevent such incidents in future, the court will have to step in and prohibit any such political rally. “You (Maharashtra government) will have to activate your machinery to stop any political rallies defying COVID-19 protocols," the HC told state Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni. “If you can’t handle it, let it be done by the court. We will not allow this to happen. We are shutting down courts, we are not being able to work at full strength (to comply with protocols and restrictions imposed by the state in view of the pandemic) and yet, these political leaders are organising rallies?" the HC said.
Last week, thousands of people staged a protest in CBD Belapur area demanding that the under-construction Navi Mumbai international airport be named after late D B Patil, a local leader. They asked for nixing of the decision to name the airport after late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. Referring to the protest rally, the high court said the airport is not even ready yet, but people are already organising rallies over its potential name just for political benefits. “We thought there will be a maximum of 5,000 people. It turned out there were 25,000 people (in the rally). Can it not wait till COVID-19 is over?" the HC asked.
The court further asked if holding political rallies for gaining “mileage" was more important than preventing the spread of the coronavirus infection. “There are rallies in the state for Maratha reservation. The issue is pending before the Supreme Court. Why can’t politicians go to the electorate and say the issue is pending before court?" the HC sought to know. What is the state government going to do to prevent such rallies in future, the court asked. The HC raised the questions while hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) on managing resources for preventing and treating COVID-19 and the state’s preparedness for a possible third wave of the pandemic.
It will continue hearing the PILs next week.