The State government informed the Bombay High Court on Friday that the representation made by lawyers seeking directions for members of the bar to be allowed to travel in local trains amidst current restrictions due to Covid-19 pandemic has been rejected by the Secretary, State Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation.
Advocate General AA Kumbhakoni submitted before the division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice AS Gadkari that in compliance of directions passed in order dated July 31, the said authority heard the representation made by lawyers and accordingly placed the said decision before the bench.
In the order passed on August 5, at the outset, the Secretary has noted that the State is not ignorant of the fact that access to justice is a Fundamental Right and lawyers constitute an essential part of the judicial system which is dedicated to delivery of justice, as was observed by the bench on July 31 after the state government seemed to be delaying a decision on the said representations.
Moreover, the order states-
"As on August 2, 2020, total number of cases of Covid-19 in Maharashtra is 4,31,719 and total number of deaths due to Covdi-19 is 15,316. Out of these in Mumbai alone, the total number of infected cases have been found to be 1,15,331 and in Mumbai Metropolitan Region the number is 94,564 and 9110 is the total number of deaths registered due to Covid-19. The aforesaid situation cannot be ignored and has to be considered seriously, in its proper perspective, specially while considering the representations at hand."
Thus, referring to the now relaxed restrictions with regard to travel, the Secretary noted that lawyers have the option of travelling by private vehicles, two wheeler or four wheeler, including taxi. However, the order states-
"In the extraordinary situation that prevails in Mumbai and MMR, providing travel facilities to frontline workers, staff has been the topmost priority of the State government. In so far as staff of other offices such as employees of nationalized banks, GST, Customs, Dept of Post, Mumbai Port Trust, PSUs is concerned, they are required since they are helping in bringing the economy to normal which has been worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic."
Referring to the staff of the judiciary who are allowed to travel by local train, the Secretary observed -
"Without their assistance, the judges of the High Court will not be able to function. In as much as the staff of government pleader's offices are concerned, it needs to be appreciated that basically all of them are employees of the state and are working under the law and judiciary department. Therefore, like most of the other state government employees, they are also allowed to use the local train services.
However it is required to be appreciated that even offices in mantralaya are not functioning in their full capacity. The attendance of the staff of even these offices has been restricted so as to avoid overcrowding at workplaces, the order states."
The Secretary also stated in the order that prominent organisations have made similar representation seeking directions for their staff to be allowed to travel on local trains. To name a few, the Bombay City Civil court, BPCL, LIC, MTNL, FDA, BSNL and MTNL staff etc.
Finally, noting that apposite to 'Mission Begin Again' the State government is gradually easing restrictions and is "opening lockdown phase-wise in a staggered manner" and state will consider permitting lawyers to travel in local trains in due course, the order states-
"Therefore, in the current pandemic situation, only those service providers whose services are of topmost priority and are indispensable have been allowed to travel by local trains so as to avoid overcrowding inside the trains which will ultimately help in curbing the spread of the infection."