MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government on Tuesday told Bombay High Court it could not permit lawyers to travel by local trains as it had restricted the number of trains and passengers as a safety measure due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an affidavit, the state submitted that restrictions on local trains had been imposed to "prevent overcrowding, and maintain social distancing" and lawyers could not claim any legal right to use them.
The state was responding to a Public Interest Litigation and several intervention applications filed by lawyers in HC seeking that they be allowed to travel to courts by suburban trains amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advocate Shyam Dewani, counsel for the main petitioner Chirag Channani, told a bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta that several lawyers resided in the suburbs in Mumbai, and that they were undergoing tremendous inconvenience in traveling to courts and their offices due to restrictions on local train travel.
Dewani, and advocate Uday Warunjikar, counsel for another petitioner, also told HC that lawyers had already written to the state government seeking that their services be recognised as essential services during the lockdown and they be allowed local train travel.
Dewani also pointed out a Delhi High Court judgement of May permitting lawyers to travel to the national capital from neighbouring states unencumbered.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, however, told HC the Delhi HC judgement dealt with travel by private vehicles and not public transport.
Therefore, the petitioners could not seek parity on the basis of such judgement, he said.
The state government also submitted, through its affidavit, that there were no restrictions on use of personal vehicles except for the number of passengers in one vehicle.
The lawyers, thus, were free to commute in private vehicles as long as they wore masks and took other COVID-19 related safety precautions.
The petitioners also said in their plea that the court staff and staff of government pleaders' offices were already included in list of essential services to be eligible to travel by local trains and the BEST is offering its services.
The state, therefore, was discriminating by preventing lawyers from using trains.
The state, however, said in the affidavit there was no discrimination since only government pleaders' staff were permitted to use local trains and government pleaders, who are the state's lawyers, had no such permission.
HC has now directed the petitioners to respond to the state's affidavit within a week.