The Bombay High Court asked the Maharashtra government on Monday why people who had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine could not be permitted to travel by local trains in Mumbai.
What was even the purpose of taking both doses of the vaccine if citizens were expected to stay inside their homes even after taking the anti-COVID-19 jabs, a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni asked.
The bench was responding to a submission made by Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that the state disaster management authority was "reluctant" to permit all lawyers, judicial clerks and court staff to resume local train travel.
Currently, only frontline health workers and government staff are permitted to use local trains, which are considered as the lifeline of Mumbai.
The HC was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations filed by lawyers and private persons through senior counsel Milind Sathe, advocates Shyam Dewani and Alankar Kirpekar, among others, seeking that lawyers be permitted to travel by local trains and Metro rail to commute to courts and their offices.
Advocate Sathe told the HC that since physical hearings have now been resumed by the high court and subordinate courts, all lawyers needed to travel by trains.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the Railways, told the HC that the Western, Central and Harbour Railway authorities had agreed to issue monthly, quarterly or six-monthly travel passes to lawyers and court staff.
Singh said lawyers and other court staff will need a letter from the bar council and the state disaster management authority, certifying that they are required to travel by trains and a pass will be issued accordingly.
"The disaster management authority, however, is a bit reluctant. This time (during the second wave of COVID-19) only frontline health workers and government staff is permitted the use of train," Kumbhakoni said.
"A meeting of the authority, presided over by the chief minister, will be held soon to take a decision," he added.
Advocate Kirpekar, whose plea also seeks that all citizens who have received both doses of the vaccine be permitted to resume a "normal life", cited a study issued by the Christian Medical College, Vellore.
He said as per the study, the frontline health workers who had received both doses of the vaccine, contracted milder symptoms of COVID-19 when compared to those who were yet to receive the vaccine.
The HC then directed the state to take the above issues into consideration.
"The difference between the first situation and now is that the situation has improved because of the vaccine," the high court said.
"All lawyers are above 18 years of age and permitted to receive the vaccine now. So, a decision needs to be taken. Otherwise, what is the benefit of the vaccine? One is not supposed to sit at home even after taking the vaccine. Lawyers need to come to court at some point," the HC said.
It asked if the state government had a comprehensive plan yet to relax restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens.
"The Railways is also cooperating, so please use your good office. We must make a beginning. Spread the net wide. Not only for lawyers, but also people coming from other walks of life," the HC said.
"A comprehensive plan is needed, otherwise it is affecting everyone. It is affecting one's finances, work. Look at the condition of roads. One takes three hours one-way to travel to Dahisar. Why this population using roads can't be permitted to shift back to trains?" the HC asked.
The court will continue hearing the plea on August 5.
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