After an unprecedented, historic separation from their beloved local trains for six months, Mumbaikars are likely to be allowed to travel on them once again. This appeared evident on Friday, when the Maharashtra government told the Bombay high court that it had no objection to increasing the frequency of the suburban rail services and if the public were to use the same, provided they wore masks and followed all the norms of social distancing. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni was told that the state government had no objection if train services were open to the public, apart from the essential service workers. Currently, only essential service providers are allowed to board local trains due to the pandemic.
Appearing for the state, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the judges, "We have no objection now to the public travelling in local trains. But our only concern is the fact that people aren't wearing masks and do not maintain social distancing."
"We can just say that citizens must wear masks covering their nose and mouth, instead of wearing an oxygen mask in ICU ward," the AG added.
Citing the case of veteran singer S P Balasubrahmanyam, who was infected after sharing a mike with another person, Kumbhakoni, said, "Coronavirus has not booked a return ticket. It is here to stay. Hence people need to be careful."
The submissions were made in response to the observation of the bench, which had, in the last hearing, said the railways must consider increasing the frequency of local trains to correspond with the partial lifting of lockdown.
Responding to the query, the AG told the judges that the state has already written to the railways to increase the frequency of the trains and its proposal has been approved by the railways board.
"At present, the number of Covid-19 cases are increasing steadily and hence, one by one, the government has been permitting opening of sectors. Thus, we have requested for increasing the frequency," the AG told the bench.
Having heard the submission, CJ Datta said, "It is the state's duty to enforce the guidelines of safety norms and social distancing rules. In March, coronavirus was unknown to any of us but now, after more than six months, we know more about the virus."
The CJ further pointed out that media reports indicated a second wave of the virus in December and January.
"Survival is of utmost importance. Something needs to be done to ensure that everyone does not end up at the railway station at the same time," CJ Datta said while suggesting staggered office timings to decrease peak hour rush in trains.
The matter will next be heard on October 19.