The Bombay High Court on Monday issued a notice to the Maharashtra government and also the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to respond to a PIL challenging the SOPs issued by the state on March 1 by which it imposed prohibitions on the unjabbed citizens from traveling in public transport. The PIL also seeks a directive to the BMC to return the nearly Rs 120 crores collected by the BMC for mask mandate.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand Karnik has issued a notice to the state and civic authorities asking them to file their response in the matter in due course.
Activist Feroze Mithiborewala has petitioned the bench led by the Chief Justice seeking a directive to prosecute Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and other state authorities for violating the fundamental rights of the citizens of the state.
In his PIL filed through advocate Nilesh Ojha, Mithiborewala has taken exception to the SOPs issued by the state making masks and vaccinations mandatory for the citizens to enter any public transport.
Notably, this is the second round of litigation by the activist on this issue as the earlier petition was disposed of last week by the bench led by CJ Datta, who had made strong observations against the state for deciding to continue with the prohibition on non-vaccinated citizens from entering in local trains or any other public places.
"That the state through the SOPs is making vaccination compulsory to avail benefits and facilities, which has compelled citizens to take vaccines for availing those benefits, especially since the policy is that vaccination is voluntary," the petition states, adding, "The National Disaster Management Plan and Disaster Management Act authorizes only the Central Health Ministry to issue directives regarding vaccination. This 'forceful vaccination' SOP is against the stand of the Union government."
The petition further highlights that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have clarified that there is no evidence to show that the vaccinated persons spread less infection and hence the classification between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is arbitrary and unconstitutional.
As far as the 'mandatory masks' decision of the authorities is concerned, the plea states that the same is "unscientific and unnecessary as the Union government has stated wearing of masks is not mandatory."
Accordingly, the petition seeks a directive to the BMC to return the nearly Rs 120 crore collected as fines from citizens for not wearing masks. Further, it seeks a directive even to return the over 50 per cent commission given to the civic body's clean-up marshals, who have been enforcing the mandatory masks drive.
The plea further states that the SOPs are in violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens under Articles 14 (equality), Article 19 (free movement), and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) as provided by the Constitution of India.
"Thus, this court should hold that the acts of the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray are illegal and liable to be prosecuted under provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)," the plea states.
Apart from this, the plea also seeks an interim compensation of Rs 5 crore to Mithiborewala as the SOPs have violated his fundamental and constitutional rights. He also seeks a directive to recover this amount from guilty officials like former Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte and his colleagues.