August 5, 2021 8:46:58 pm
The Bombay High Court Thursday asked the Maharashtra government to form a committee of experts from all sectors to address grievances on issues about public transport during pandemic and “workout solution” for access to suburban local train travel for common citizens, especially those who are fully vaccinated.
The court observed that earning a livelihood is necessary for everyone and as the travel scenario in Mumbai is different from other cities in the state, it is necessary to come up with unique solutions specific to the city.
The High Court also asked the Centre and state to consider issuing “common cards” for fully-vaccinated persons having taken two doses of anti-Covid-19 vaccines to identify and allow them travel through all utilities, including foreign travels.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a batch of PILs, including the one filed by city resident Mohan Bhide, seeking directions to the authorities to relax travel restrictions for fully-vaccinated people who have completed 15 days since the date of their second dose.
The other PILs were filed by lawyers and Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh to declare lawyers, journalists and other staff of the media industry as essential frontline workers and allow them to travel in local trains.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni representing the state government informed the bench that a letter from the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) will be soon issued for lawyers, registered clerks and other staff based on which they can get railway passes.
The bench referred to a newspaper interview of the Maharashtra Covid task force member Dr Shashank Joshi which stated that the trains cannot be made open to all as one-third of citizens are still susceptible to Covid-19 and Maharashtra was yet to achieve the target of fully-vaccinating at least 70% of its population and identifying fully-vaccinated persons was “cumbersome”.
CJ Datta said, “If Dr Joshi is saying fully-vaccinated people can be allowed subject to identification and it is a medical advice that it can be done subject to the verification process, it is up to state and Centre to figure out the process to identify the fully-vaccinated persons.”
“As we suggested on the last date, can you not open dedicated counters for fully-vaccinated persons (to avail railway tickets/passes)? Discuss with the State Covid Task Force,” bench told Kumbhakoni.
“While we will celebrate Independence Day on August 15, let us hope we have independence from all these issues (travel restrictions during pandemic) too,” the CJ added.
Justice Kulkarni further said, “Why not have a common card as ID for all utilities for fully-vaccinated persons? It can also be applicable for foreign travels. You cannot compare Mumbai with other cities in the state. This is a city with special needs. When this kind of situation arises, why is something required to be generated through PILs which we have been hearing for the past 8-9 months?”
“You (government) should have experts from all fields. Travelling has become essential and buses are charging higher rates. Train travel is most economical. These are important issues which touch the livelihood of people,” the judge added.
The bench asked the state to consider forming a committee of experts to deal with various grievances of citizens during the pandemic and added that “If administrative machinery is prepared to tackle the problem, considering complexity involved,” the aggrieved citizens would not be required to approach courts.
Moreover, responding to submissions by counsel for petitioner Patrakar Sangh that journalists, most of whom come from modest households, are required to reach the “ground zero” for reporting with an access to trains, the bench said, “Even our source of information is newspapers first…The Supreme Court has said the media is the central pillar.”
The bench asked the state government to “work out a solution” for train travel and come up with a “proposed plan” for allowing fully-vaccinated persons to travel by suburban trains by next week.
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