HC seeks govt reply on lawyers’ plea for essential service nod

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday directed the Maharashtra government to take a decision on the representation made by city-based lawyers seeking that legal services be recognised as essential services and that they be permitted to use local trains to commute to courts.

A bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said the state government must inform the court of its decision by August 6.

The bench was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations and intervention applications filed by several lawyers from the city.

The petitioners' lawyers Shyam Dewani and Uday Warunjikar informed the court that in the absence of permission to use local trains, lawyers, especially those living in the suburbs, found it difficult to reach the courts.

While the High Court had been conducting virtual hearings, several lower courts still required physical presence, sometimes owing to infrastructure issues or lack of adequate internet connectivity etc, the lawyers argued.The bench accepted the submission and noted that the Bombay High Court too had recently permitted physical filing of cases.

The court noted that a similar petition had been filed by another bench of the High Court earlier this month.

On July 10, the bench led by Justice S S Shinde had held that categorising a particular set of professionals as essential service providers was the state government's prerogative.It had then directed the lawyers before it to make a representation before the state and it had asked the latter to take a decision on the same.

On Friday, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the state government was yet to take a decision on the same.Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who represented the Union government, told the court that currently the Western Railways was operating 150 of its 1,365 trains, while the Central railways was operating 353 of its 1,774 trains, with limited stops."Even with the limited number of trains, we are finding it difficult to maintain social distancing," he said.

However, if the state wishes to augment train services, the understanding between the two governments is that the state can make an assessment of its needs and place a request before the Centre, he added. At this, the court said the state should have decided on the lawyers' representation."

The state government must apply its mind and take an informed decision on the representation made by the lawyers and their staff," the bench said."It is known that access to justice is the citizens' Fundamental Right and advocates are an integral part of the entire justice delivery system. We hope the parties will be given a fair hearing and a decision will be placed before the court," the bench said.

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