The Bombay High Court while allowing lawyers in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and registered clerks to travel in local trains, observed that time has come for the State government to identify employees/staff of other sectors too who could gradually be allowed to avail suburban train services.
Division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni were hearing a batch of PILs and a writ petition seeking inclusion of lawyers in the list of essential services that are allowed to travel in local trains. Previously, in an order dated September 15, the bench had allowed lawyers attending the High Court to travel in local trains on an experimental basis.
On Friday's hearing, Court allowed laywers appearing before other courts across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to apply before the registrar specially designated for the purpose by the seniormost magistrate at the concerned station, for issuance of certificates permitting travel of lawyers by local train for attending remand proceedings.
Whereas, registered clerks required to attend the principal seat for the purpose of physical filing of matters, were asked to apply through email to the designated Registrar of the High Court seeking a day's pass.
As reported earlier, Advocate General of Maharashtra AA Kumbhakoni vehemently argued that people were failing to follow the basic preventive measures against the virus while travelling in locals.
He submitted a letter by the Divisional Railway Manager's Office, Commercial Department, Mumbai Central, Western Railway listing out 14 categories of essential services staff, who have been permitted to travel in EMU trains on demand from the State Government. Employees of the 'judiciary' and 'dabbawalas' are included in the said list.
Apart from suburban train services, BEST has been operating a sizable number of buses in Mumbai as well as beyond Mumbai limits, AG Kumbhakoni informed the bench. He also submitted that the number of buses presently plying would be doubled in the MMR.
Moreover, AG Kumbhakoni said-
"While opening up activities as part of the "Mission Begin Again" initiative in a phased manner, the State has shown its keenness to ensure that more public transport facilities are made available but keeping an eye on the capacity of the public sector to treat patients infected by COVID-19. The prevailing conditions being still grim, the Government is taking a judicious approach to ensure that the number of Covid-19 infected patients does not exceed the capacity."
AG Kumbhakoni assured the bench that the Government intends to hold joint deliberations with the Railways shortly, of appropriate measures being devised to cater to the needs of not only the lawyers and their registered clerks, but also employees/staff working in other sectors. However, for the present, it would not be advisable to allow train services being made available to employees/staff of all sectors.
Senior Advocate Dr.Milind Sathe appeared on behalf of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa. He placed before the bench a chart showing the names of the bar associations, the number of members of such associations and the number of registered clerks who normally travel by train for reaching Courts at Mumbai, Thane, Raigad and Palghar.
According to him, it has not been possible to ascertain the exact number of lawyers who would be inclined to physically appear before the judicial fora to conduct their respective cases as well as the number of their registered clerks because of shortage of time, but given the situation that not all 9030 lawyers would have cases fixed on any particular day, on a reasonable estimation not more than 25% of such lawyers would be required to travel on any single day.
Appearing on behalf of the Railways, ASG Anil Singh submitted that the problem of overcrowding in trains is acute during 8 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm. He urged that though increasing the frequency of suburban train services is a necessity, it would be proper if staggered office timings for different sectors are introduced to avoid crowd gathering on platforms at the same time and surge in cases of infection.
After hearing all parties, the bench observed-
"It is quite true that the pandemic has severely affected lives and livelihood of a large cross-section of the society, including lawyers and the registered clerks, and the local bar associations would like the Courts to resume physical hearings. While taking note of the concern expressed on their behalf, we cannot overlook the interest of the judicial officers posted at the Courts in the MMR as well as the staff functioning there. Allowing the Courts to function normally, as in pre-pandemic days, still appears to be at some distance. Opening up the doors of the suburban trains for all the lawyers and their registered clerks to attend Courts in the MMR would also not be advisable, lest the numbers rise and the State is unnecessarily burdened with more cases requiring provisions for additional health and medi-care services.
Survival in these difficult times has to be the foremost concern. That the State has been opening up and permitting more and more activities on easing of lockdown restrictions is no doubt encouraging but complacency at any cost has to be avoided. The priority sector of essential service providers has been identified. We wish to give directions hereafter for the benefit of the lawyers and the registered clerks. Now, it is time for the State to identify employees/staff of other sectors too who could gradually be allowed to avail suburban train services. We are conscious that some time would be required for such purpose but the effort must start in the right earnest immediately."
The next date of hearing is October 19.
Click Here To Download Order