Are restrictions on local train travel for unvaccinated people justified in current scenario? Bombay HC asks Maharashtra govt

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Monday, March 21, 2022, 11:43 PM IST
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Even though the Maharashtra government has justified restrictions on local train travel for the unvaccinated persons, the Bombay High Court on Monday questioned whether such restrictions were required in the present scenario. A division bench of the Bombay High Court Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and justice MS Karnik asked the state government to inform by today (Tuesday) the Covid-19 situation in Mumbai when the restrictions were put in place.

The HC was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an individual, Firoz Mithiborwala, challenging the state government's decision to permit only the fully vaccinated people to use the public transport. Chief Justice Datta said that at present, the rate of Covid infection was not as high as it was in 2020. “You (Maharashtra government) will have to address us on what was the condition then, when this restriction was first imposed, and whether it is justified today?” asked Chief Justice Datta.

Justifying the restrictions, the state government filed an affidavit saying that the restriction had been imposed based on expert advice. The affidavit said that the death rates in the first, second, and third waves of the pandemic had been 2.52% of the total number of people infected, 1.26%, and 0.19% respectively. The hospitalisation rate during the three waves were 69.22%, 37.90%, and 5.67% respectively, the affidavit said. “The conspicuously low rate of hospitalisation and fatality in the third wave may be attributed to the massive vaccination measures undertaken by the Union and the state government,” the affidavit said.

The experts concluded after much research that vaccination provided substantial immunity against Covid-19, and the restriction on train travel on the unvaccinated was to prevent further spread of infections, the government said in the affidavit. “Considering the peculiar pattern of travel in local trains, where the number of passengers in each coach is more than three to five times its maximum capacity, there is no possibility of maintaining social distancing,” read the affidavit. It further added: “Also, any unvaccinated person who is infected but is asymptomatic or, unaware, is likely to spread the infection to several of his co-passengers.”

Mithiborwala challenged the government circular dated March 1, 2022, listing the standard operating procedures and safety measures to be followed by citizens in view of the pandemic. The restriction on public transport, including local trains, for the unvaccinated has been continued in this circular. Terming the restrictions as arbitrary and unconstitutional, Mithiborwala alleged that it was an “indirect attempt” on the part of the Maharashtra government to make vaccination compulsory. The HC will hear the plea today.

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