The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT), which deals with pleas of state government employees, has told the Bombay High Court that its principal seat in Mumbai and benches at Nagpur and Aurangabad could not conduct hearings through video conferencing during the Covid-19 lockdown due to “very old and non-functional” computers and lack of technical manpower.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni, on October 28, had directed MAT to consider a request by advocate Yogesh Prakash Morbale to commence online filing and hearing of cases on immediate basis in view of the Covid-19 situation and provide a report on measures to ameliorate such grievance by November 3.
In a report submitted to HC, MAT Registrar Suresh Joshi said that most of the computers being used at MAT were very old and were purchased between 2007 and 2014. “At present, almost 25 computers are very old and non-functional in as much as the hearing of matters through video-conferencing is concerned,” Joshi said.
He further said that the tribunal lacked the technical manpower to conduct video conferences and that at least two technical persons were required for the tribunal at Mumbai and one each at its benches. “Due to lack of proper infrastructure required for e-courts, the tribunal is facing a lot of difficulties for conducting matters through videoconferencing and filing through e-courts,” the MAT said.
The report said MAT benches worked twice a week during the Covid-19 pandemic and heard a total of 1,632 cases filed during this period, along with several other urgent matters, and disposed of 599 cases.
The report also said the chairperson of the tribunal and its members were not provided with laptops and computers and it had submitted a proposal on October 15 for sanctioning the same along with printers and big screens for video conferencing.
The tribunal has a sanctioned strength of a chairperson, three vice-chairpersons and five members. In its report, the MAT said posts of three members — one each at Mumbai, Nagpur and Aurangabad were vacant and two of the three vice-chairpersons are due to retire on November 17, 2020 and January 22, 2021.
Therefore, the MAT said no bench would be available at Aurangabad and government employees from Marathwada region would have to approach either Mumbai and Nagpur benches in case of urgency. For hearing regular matters from Aurangabad bench, MAT would have to make arrangements for circuit benches, the report said.
In his petition, filed through advocates Vinod Sangvikar and Yashodeep Deshmukh, Morbale mentioned that he had been stuck at his native place in Kolhapur district and was not in position to come personally to file matters before MAT considering “huge risk” entailed due to Covid-19 outbreak and increase in travel costs due to restrictions imposed. The petition further said most of the courts, tribunals and other adjudicating authorities had shifted to virtual platforms due to the unprecedented Covid-19 situation.