The Bombay high court (HC) on Thursday suggested issuing e-passes to lawyers on an experimental basis to allow them to travel by local trains to attend physical hearings of cases. The HC made the suggestion after it was informed that many lawyers were unable to reach the HC for physical hearings as they did not have any other modes of transportation to reach the court except for local trains.
According to government order, only personnel employed in the state government, municipal corporation, health and essential services can travel via local trains.
A division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice GS Kulkarni, while hearing a bunch of petitions filed by advocates, was informed by advocate Shyam Dewani that since lockdown was implemented to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection, many lawyers practicing in the HC and other trial courts in the city had been unable to reach the court as local train services had been suspended.
Dewani further submitted that even after a limited number of local train services were resumed in the unlock phases, lawyers were not permitted to commute on trains. As a result of this, many lawyers were unable to attend court even after physical hearing in HC commenced recently. In light of these submissions, the petitioner urged the court to direct the state to permit lawyers to use local train services to reach both the HC and lower courts.
However, advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni opposed the plea and stated that as there was a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the city, permitting lawyers to travel by local trains would only add to the rising number of cases. Kumbhakoni said that while the state was amiable to resume normal services, it could not allow train travel till the Covid situation did not improve as social distancing norms were not being followed even in the limited train services being run currently.
After hearing the submissions, the court observed, “For how long will you allow the situation to continue? We have to live with coronavirus.”
The chief justice further said that though HC had started physical hearings, the inability of lawyers to reach the court premises was negating the purpose of the initiative. He then suggested that issuing of e-passes could be started for advocates having to appear before the HC bench on an experimental basis.
“We can direct the HC registry to issue the e-passes or the state can issue them. We would like the AG to come up with a plan and mode of implementing the experimental initiative by Tuesday, September 15. Issuing e-passes to lawyers to attend lower courts can be considered after seeing the outcome of the experiment,” the bench said.
The petitions will be heard on September 15.