A batch of Public Interest Litigation’s was filed in the Bombay High Court by the members of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa to include the members of the legal fraternity in the category of “essential services” and to allow them to use local trains. The Court directed that in light of the reopening of the majority of other services, the State ought to consider resuming train services.
A batch of PILs was filed in the Bombay High Court by Chirag Chanani, Sagar Sahani, Nitin Patil, and Ashley Kusher requesting the Court to include members of the legal profession and their registered clerks in the category of “essential services”. The petitioners also prayed for the members of the legal fraternity to be allowed to utilize the local train services. In the previous hearing held on 15th September, the Court had allowed a limited number of lawyers to use the train services on an experimental basis.
The Union of India (Respondent No. 1) placed a chart reflecting the number of suburban Electric Multiple Units operated by the Central & Western Railway before the imposition of lockdown and from June 2020 to October 2020 (“the Chart”) before the Court. Respondent No. 1 also submitted that the frequency of the local trains could be further increased if such a representation has been made by the State Government.
The Counsel for the State presented video clips before the Court to show that social distancing norms are not being followed in local trains. It has been submitted that many people who are availing the train services currently have fraudulently obtained passes and hence an increase in the frequency would not be prudent.
After reviewing the charts submitted by the respondents, the Court observed that there was a gradual increase in the number of trains from June 2020 onwards.
The Court also clarified that in addition to considering the plea to allow members of the legal fraternity, the Court would also consider including the staff of other sectors who are interested in availing the train services. With the initiation of the “Unlock 5 – Mission Begin Again”, it is necessary to expand the concern expressed in these petitions in light of the hardships & inconveniences faced by the members of all professions.
The Court was of the prima facie view that an increase in the frequency of the local train services could be a reasonable step to cater to the needs of persons utilizing the train services. This, however, would be subject to strict social distancing norms.
The Court directed the government pleader appearing for the State to obtain instructions concerning an increase in the frequency of the local train services to 700 daily as against the present 512 and 431 in the Western and Central Railway respectively along with a proportionate increase in harbour line.
The Court further observed that since the State has gradually opened up offices, hotels, malls, restaurants, etc., there ought to be a corresponding view with respect to the operation of local train services. Moreover, overcrowding can be managed to a large extent if the frequency of local trains is increased.
The Court requested the Bar Associations at Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, and Raigad to submit an approximate number of members from the legal professions willing to attend physical hearings, so that the State agrees to increase the frequency. In addition, the Court requested the Counsel for State to obtain instructions in this matter and scheduled the next hearing for tomorrow, i.e. 9th October 2020.
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