The Bombay High Court on Tuesday slammed the Maharashtra government for not maintaining minutes of the meetings held since last year in which it was decided to prohibit unvaccinated citizens from travelling in local trains. The HC said the state government has contradicted its own rules which mandate maintaining meetings held by the executive during the pandemic.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand Karnik has now given time to the state till Thursday to prove that their decision wasn't arbitrary and was in the larger interest of the public and thus it shouldn't be interfered with.
The bench was seized with a bunch of PILs challenging the SOPs issued by the state government denying entry to non-vaccinated citizens from travelling in suburban local trains.
On Monday, senior counsel Anil Anturkar representing the state told the judges that the government officials haven't maintained any records of the meetings in which the state on recommendations of experts, decided to prohibit non-vaccinated citizens from travelling in the locals.
"I understand that the records of the meeting haven't been maintained but on this sole ground itself our decision cannot be vitiated," the senior counsel argued, adding, "Please note that the decision (to prohibit unvaxed citizens) was for the larger public interest."
Hearing the submission, CJ Datta said, "How can we accept these SOPs when no meeting is held... Your officers are meeting virtually... There must have been some agenda (note for purpose) at least for the meeting? We aren't shown even such agenda yet."
"We want to know what is the immediate threat that you aren't maintaining any minutes of the meeting," Chief Justice Datta said, highlighting, "When we decided to go fully virtual, physical, hybrid etc from time to time, we held review meetings with experts and civic chief. Whatever was discussed in the meeting, we have put everything in black and white... Why can't you do it so?"
The Chief Justice further expressed displeasure saying, "This is undesirable to hear from you that you are so busy that you can't write even a short two pages note of the meeting."
At this, Anturkar clarified that there is no ego or any other issue on part of the state officials "it is just that the pandemic has created a surprise to all of us. We will certainly follow your instructions," the senior counsel submitted.
"So Mr Anturkar, you need to show us judgments passed by the Supreme Court by next hearing, wherein it is held that courts cannot interfere with state decisions if they are for larger public interest despite the fact that their decision-making process was flawed and defective," Chief Justice Datta said while adjourning the matter till Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Union government through additional solicitor general (ASG) Anil Singh submitted that as a matter of social obligation and a responsible citizen, it is the duty of every citizen to get vaccinated to avoid the spread of the infection.
"We have been encouraging vaccination and requesting people to get vaccinated in the larger public interest," ASG Singh said, adding, "But no one can be forced to get a vaccine."