Mumbai: The Maharashtra Government has finally admitted that the need of the hour is to go for virtual hearings in quasi-judicial matters headed by competent authorities under various statutes, considering pandemic situations so as to maintain social distancing.
In a notification issued on Tuesday, the General Administration Department Principal Secretary Shrikant Deshpande said, ‘’The government has instructed all the Additional Chief Secretaries/ Principal Secretaries/ Secretaries and Head of the Departments / Public Authorities to use video conferencing for conducting virtual hearings in respect of proceedings under the diverse statutes applicable to such public authorities as well as for conducting hearing of First Appeals under the Right to Information Act. This will facilitate the dispensation of justice speedily without compromising the health and safety of parties in the current times.’’
However, in event of a party to the proceedings, request for hearing in person due to technical reasons, such as quality of internet access, hardware access in that cases at their end, the parties may be allowed personal hearing by the Competent Authorities, reads the government notification.
The government’s notification comes after former Chief Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and others in the petition in the Bombay High Court had prayed that during the Covid 19 crisis, it was necessary for the immediate adoption of measures to ensure social distancing. Hence, the petitioners prayed to issue appropriate guidelines or directions to all the public authorities in Maharashtra to adopt an appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearings pertaining to proceedings under the diverse statutes applicable to such public authorities as well as for conducting hearing of First Appeals under the Right to Information Act.
The High Court on September 26, 2020, during the hearing, considered the statement made by the concerned additional government pleader that the process of quasi-judicial hearing through video conferencing is underway. Thereafter, the High Court directed to apprise it regarding the steps taken by the government and thereby not leave any room for complaint to be voiced by the petitioner on the returnable date.