The Bombay High Court on Tuesday observed that at a time when people are starving, losing their jobs, Courts cannot keep the hearing in pleas seeking inclusion of lawyers in the list of essential services in order for them to travel in local trains limited to lawyers only. We have to come up with a formula to benefit the public as well, Court said.
Division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni were hearing two separate PILs together, one was filed by the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa seeking inclusion of the advocates in the list of essential services and the second PIL was filed by Consumer Court Advocates Association seeking directions to resume physical hearing in consumer courts.
At the very outset, Chief Justice Dipankar Datta told Advocate Uday Warunjikar appearing for both the petitioners-
"Have you seen the newspaper today? Government is now allowing private organisations to open and function at 50% capacity.
We were contemplating that instead of opening Courts for physical hearing during peak hours, we can open during lean hours, like between 2 pm and 6 pm."
At this juncture, Government Pleader Poornima Kantharia intervened and added that trains running currently are full and the rush seems to have increased from before the lockdown. To this, Justice Kulkarni said-
"Why not catch the empty hours (for physical hearing)? All of us know how life in Mumbai is. So what we can do is we can have hearings during the lean hours of traffic."
The Chief Justice then addressed the plea to include advocates in the list of essential services to facilitate their travel in local trains-
"Let us not keep this limited to lawyers, it may seem biased. We cannot only think of lawyers. The situation today is such that people are starving, they are losing their jobs. So we have to come up with a formula that benefits others as well."
Court also called the state government's decision to open restaurants a welcome move, noting that people who have lost their livelihoods will benefit. Chief Justice Datta then referred to apprehensions of people in resuming physical hearings, he said-
"The situation in Kerala is serious. After Onam, there is a reported 126% rise in cases of Coronavirus. So, people have to abide by the protocols prescribed by the States and the Centre.
Co-operation of the people is needed. The Bar Council is meant for Advocates no doubt but you are a statutory body so you have a duty towards others as well."
Finally, the bench asked the State to consider the submissions and discussion in today's hearing to allow lawyers of lower courts such as Consumer courts etc to travel in local trains and respond accordingly.
State Bar Council's PIL states-
"In the MMRDA region, which includes Mumbai city, the suburbs, Thane, Palghar and Raigad districts, there are 25,000 lawyers. Most of them are practising in nearby Court stations. However, for the matters before other Court stations, some of them are relying on Railway services. It is submitted that most of them are not having daily matters in other Court complexes, but several of them travel by local trains either for reaching theri Court complexes or their offices. Roughly around 2000 lawyers may travel in the present station purely on Western, Harbour and Central railways."
On the other hand, plea filed by the Consumer Courts Advocate's Association seeks directions to start physical or virtual hearings for effective settlement of consumer disputes pending before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
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