Observing that despite easing of lockdown restrictions, local train services on both Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) had not increased correspondingly, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the central and state governments to ensure that services on both lines are increased to 700 per day each to avoid overcrowding in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).
The court also questioned the state regarding the steps it had taken to ensure that physical distancing norms were followed for the existing services.
It directed the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa (BCMG), along with bar associations of trial courts in MMR – including Mumbai, Thane, Raigad and Palghar – to provide a list of lawyers who want to travel by local trains on a daily basis to attend hearings at trial courts.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni made the observations while hearing a PIL filed by BCMG and other lawyers – through senior advocate Milind Sathe and advocate Uday Warunjikar – seeking directions to the state to consider practising advocates as essential service providers and permit them to travel by suburban local trains.
The bench observed that since physical hearing for criminal appeals had began in the HC, it had witnessed only 18 physical appearances being made by lawyers of petitioners between September 23 to October 1.
Sathe said that as there were no video conference facilities in trial courts, the lawyers have to physically attend hearings. He added that most lawyers were opting for video conference hearings.
When another advocate, Ashley Cusher, said that despite lockdown conditions being relaxed, the number of train services had not been increased, the HC referred to statistics provided by CR and WR and observed that the services were not corresponding to the subsequent lockdown relaxations.
While CR ran over 1,700 services before the lockdown, the numbers had been come down to 200 per day during the lockdown and increased to 431 after the relaxations.
Similarly, WR runs only 512 services after the relaxation of the lockdown.
“Why have services not been increased corresponding to relaxation?” CJ Datta asked.
The bench added that the state should consider proposing to Railways, seeking proportionate increase in the number of services — to 700 per day each for both CR and WR. The court will hear the plea next on Friday.
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