Frame policy on staggered work timings to avoid train crowding: HC tells Maharashtra, railways
The Bombay high court has directed the state and railway authorities to device a way to ensure that people can go back to work by travelling on the local trains while ensuring that social distancing norms are maintained. The court has also asked the state to involve all stakeholders, including essential service providers, and frame a broader policy on staggered work timings so that the issue of overcrowding on platforms and local trains during peak hours is addressed.
The state has also been asked to inform the court of the measures it proposes to take in the event of a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases that have been predicted in December and January.
A division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni, while hearing a bunch of public interest litigations filed on behalf of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa and various lawyer groups, was informed by advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that the state was not averse to increasing the frequency of local trains on both the Central and Western Railways. The petitions have sought inclusion of lawyers in the list of essential service providers so that they can travel by local trains and attend court as and when their cases came up for hearing in the high court as well as the subordinate courts in the MMR region.
While making submissions, Kumbhakoni submitted that the state had been asking the railway authorities to increase services based on demand. “We have slowly started opening sectors one by one as figures of Covid positive case are going down. The reason why we are doing it in a phased manner is the capacity of the health sector to treat patients...Whenever there is a decline (in the number of cases), we open up one sector that results in a small increase in Covid cases, but it doesn’t cross the threshold. That is how we have opened up restaurants. We are trying to take a judicious approach,” submitted Kumbakoni.
“There is no return ticket for corona. We have to live with it. If we allow the public to enter local trains, we expect them to behave properly,” said Kumbhakoni.
It was pointed out that the problem of overcrowding in trains was seen only during peak hours: 8 – 10 am and 4 - 7 pm. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh, appearing for railways, suggested that a staggered work timing regime could ensure that huge crowds don’t reach the platform at the same time.
Appearing for the Bar Council, senior counsel Dr Milind Sathe submitted that the council was amenable to staggered work timings and members could be asked to travel by locals only when they had cases. Other petitioners represented by advocate Abhay Anturkar, Shyam Dewani and other advocates concurred with his suggestions.
After the submissions, the bench observed, “Survival should be foremost thing in our mind. Device a mechanism to ensure that all people do not come to the platform at same time.”
The court then said that it was extending the facility of e-pass for advocates appearing in subordinate courts in the MMR region on an experimental basis for five days and would review it thereafter. It also asked the state and the lawyer associations to come up with responses to its suggestions and placed the matter for hearing on October 19.