THE Bombay High Court on Tuesday asked the state government to consider resuming public transport facilities, including local trains and buses, in a planned manner to ensure people from all walks of life are not denied of the opportunity to earn their livelihood.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni made the suggestion Tuesday while hearing a PIL filed by the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa (BCMG) and other lawyers, through senior advocate Milind Sathe and advocate Uday Warunjikar, seeking directions to the state government to consider practising advocates as essential service providers and permit them to travel by suburban local trains to attend hearings at trial courts.
The bench said lawyers should not only look after their own needs but also of those from other sectors who are “starving” as they are deprived of their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak. It asked the petitioner’s counsel to share its suggestions with the state government to help it can make a decision by October 5, a day before the next hearing.
On September 15, the high court had directed the Railways and the state government to allow lawyers to travel by special local trains to attend the physical hearings of cases in the high court from September 18 to October 7, on an experimental basis.
Appearing for the state, advocate Purnima H Kantharia said even today when a limited number of passengers were allowed to travel by local trains, the situation was getting bad to worse and the suburban services were running packed. Opposing the plea, Kantharia said, allowing more passengers might cause problems in view of the pandemic.
After hearing submissions, the court referred to news reports that stated the government was contemplating allowing local train travel for select employees of private organisations.
“Allowing only lawyers can be biased on our part. Why not persons from other sectors. We cannot only think of lawyers. We understand that the local trains are crowded, but we have to look at the needs of other people too, as they have lost their means of livelihood. People are starving, losing their jobs. We have read a report wherein a general manager of a hotel is working as assistant to a dumper-truck driver. Someone else is selling vegetables on the streets to support himself,” CJ Datta observed.
The bench suggested as the trains were running packed during peak hours, the trial courts could start functioning in the afternoon from 2 pm. The move, the court said, would allow lawyers to travel when the trains were running at nearly half their capacity.
“We have to think of ways on how to overcome the situation without it becoming similar to that of Kerala, where after Onam festival the Covid-19 cases increased to over 120 per cent,” CJ Datta noted.
The bench asked lawyers representing BCMG to provide suggestions on the matter, including on the staggered timings of trial courts. “You have to devise a formula. It would be for trains and buses and all modes of public transport,” the court said.
The bench also directed the state to consider the suggestions of the lawyers, and if it found them “prima facie acceptable”, to take a decision on allowing more people to access public transport facilities and file an affidavit by October 5.
The court will hear the plea along with other PILs by lawyers seeking permission for local train travel on October 6.
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