Bombay High Court pushes for advocates to travel on local trains

Observing that coronavirus was here to live with us, the Bombay High Court on Thursday insisted the Maharashtra government to throw open local trains, at least to those advocates who had to appear before it. The HC said the state must consider allowing advocates (who appear before HC's physical courts) in local trains on a pilot basis.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni said since there are no trains for advocates, the four benches of the HC, which are hearing criminal matters physically, are finding it difficult to cope.

The observations were made in response to the submissions of Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who informed the judges that the state was not inclined to start resume normal schedules of local trains and it could not allow advocates to travel in them. "Presently, there are adequate number of passengers in the local trains and there is no overcrowding as usual. The crowd is enough for maintaining social distance inside the trains and there is no overflow (of passengers)," AG Kumbhakoni submitted, adding that if trains are opened up for the public, there would be an 'explosion' of Covid cases. Having heard that contention, Chief Justice Datta asked the AG how long would the present situation prevail.

"We have opened up our courts for hearing matters physically. But if you do not open up, how will we continue with the work?" CJ Datta questioned. "Let us accept that we have to live with this corona and maintain social distancing. You (state) cannot keep the trains shut, especially when passenger trains have also commenced," CJ Datta observed. The judges further pointed out that it had been around six months now and it was high time the state began to seriously consider starting trains.

"It's been six months and we think we must start now. We are not asking you to allow everybody but only lawyers, who have to appear before this court physically. You can consider using electronic passes for such lawyers," CJ Datta said.

The bench further said that because of no trains, the four benches of the HC, which have started hearing criminal appeals, are finding it difficult to proceed with the hearings. "We want the system to be functional. In fact, we have to open almost everything gradually, but unless you assist us, we can't open up physically," CJ Datta observed. The bench accordingly ordered the state government to consider, as a pilot project, allowing advocates to travel in local trains.

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