The Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to take a decision on continuing quasi-judicial hearings across state public authorities and proceedings on RTI first appeals via video-conference, even during the post-pandemic period, at the earliest.
Since the Covid-19 lockdown, activists alleged there was no avenue to redress the grievances of the public at large, as hearings had come to a standstill and sought that virtual hearings should continue even during the post-pandemic period. The state government assured the court it was deliberating on the same and would take a decision to initiate arrangements for the necessary infrastructure.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni, on January 5, was hearing a PIL, wherein the petitioners had prayed for directions to state authorities to issue appropriate guidelines or directions to all the public authorities in Maharashtra to adopt an appropriate video-conferencing platform to conduct hearings pertaining to proceedings under various statutes and to hear first appeals under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Last Monday, Additional Government Pleader Geeta Shastri, representing the state government, placed on record a communication from the Principal Secretary, General Administration Department. The communication from December stated that the Maharashtra government proposed to form a state-level committee to assess necessary infrastructure to decide if quasi-judicial hearings with the public can continue via video-conferencing even during the post pandemic period. Shastri submitted the committee would be required to consult with experts in the field and solicit suggestions from the general public, including the petitioners, before an appropriate decision is taken in the matter.
After hearing submissions, the court in its order said, “We have no doubt in our mind that the observations contained in the communication of December 11, 2020 shall be given effect to in letter and spirit. As and when the committee is formed and the petitioners informed, former CIC Shailesh Gandhi may provide appropriate inputs to the said Committee for its consideration.”
Disposing of the PIL, the bench said, “We desire the committee to prepare and submit its report at the earliest, preferably within two months from the date of its formation. The government shall thereafter proceed to take a final decision on acceptance of such report or otherwise, as expeditiously as possible.”
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