File photo: Bombay high court
MUMBAI: The state government has told the Bombay high court that it cannot allow lawyers to travel by local trains as it has restricted the number of trains and passengers to avoid overcrowding and to maintain social distancing due to the Covid pandemic.
It replied to a public interest litigation (PIL) by advocate Chirag Chanani, urging the court to hold and declare that services by lawyers practising in various courts in Mumbai are ‘essential services’ and to include them in the list of persons entitled to travel by local trains.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar heard Chanani’s PIL as well as intervention pleas by lawyers seeking similar relief.
Advocate Shyam Dewani, for Chanani, said it is an insult to lawyers. The judges pointed out that a coordinate bench had on July 11 dismissed a petition with similar prayers and had said that it is for the state government to decide which service is to be included in essential services. They noted that the petitioner was granted liberty to make a representation to the state government. Advocate Uday Warunjikar, for advocate Nitin Patil, said representation to the government is pending.
Dewani said lawyers are officers of the court and therefore covered under essential services. But the judges said officers and servants of the high court referred to under Article 229 of the Constitution are those staff maintained by the chief justice such as deputy registrar, chopdars and peons, but definitely not lawyers.
The state’s affidavit, filed by the secretary of Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation, said that there is no restriction on the use of private vehicles except for the number of passengers allowed in a single-vehicle, and for following of precautionary measures such as wearing of masks among others. “Advocates can travel by private vehicle if they either want to visit their offices or visit any court premises for attending the hearing or for the purpose of filing of matters, physical or otherwise,” it added.
The judges have posted the hearing for July 31, allowing Chanani to file a rejoinder.