The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Tuesday that it will decide by the end of this week whether or not it can allow lawyers to travel by suburban local trains during peak hours. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni made the statement before a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni that was hearing public interest litigations (PILs) filed by the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa (BCMG) and other lawyers seeking directions to the state to consider practising advocates as essential service providers and permit them to travel by local trains to attend hearings in trial courts.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the Railways, also said that the ministry will consider suggestions made by the petitioners. On October 22, the Maharashtra government had on an “experimental basis” allowed lawyers affiliated with the BMCG and registered clerks to take local trains during non-peak hours for professional purposes. On Tuesday, the court extended the same facility to the lawyers and the clerks till further orders.
Senior counsel Milind Sathe and advocate Shyam Dewani, appearing for the petitioners, said that since the HC has resumed physical hearings in a limited manner, it was necessary that lawyers are permitted to commute by local trains during peak hours to reach the court that starts functioning at 11 am every day.
Kumbhakoni said the state will hold a meeting with the concerned stakeholders and take a decision by the end of this week. The court posted the pleas for further hearing on December 9.
The court, meanwhile, directed the state to inform it about the “action plan” for physical reopening of consumer courts across the state in non-containment zones from December 9.
The HC was hearing a PIL filed by the Consumer Courts Advocates Association, which had submitted that since the lockdown began, consumer courts have been non-functional as there are no facilities to conduct virtual hearings. “Today, district courts are functioning, then why not consumer courts? Give us a road map,” the HC asked the government.
Meanwhile, more benches of the HC resumed physical hearings on Tuesday after March when the court had started hearings through video conferencing. The benches in HC will now sit daily for nearly four-and-a-half hours on an “experimental basis”.
The HC administration on November 27 had issued a standard operating procedure for the resumption of “compulsory” physical hearings at its principal seat from December 1. However, the associations representing thousands of lawyers and senior advocates had written to Chief Justice (CJ) Dipankar Datta seeking “to defer the holding of physical courts…and… allow lawyers the option of appearing virtually should they feel at risk”.
On Tuesday morning, judges of the HC administrative committee and senior lawyers held a meeting. The CJ heard their grievances and said an appropriate decision shall be taken in due course.
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