MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Maharashtra government about how long it plans to restrict suburban train services here in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court was hearing a petition and related applications seeking that lawyers be permitted to use local train services in the city.
Referring to the state's submission that it does not plan to resume regular suburban train services as yet, a bench headed by Chief Dipankar Datta said, "We have to now live with the virus. How long will this go on? It has been six months."
The petitioners' counsel Shyam Dewani and Uday Warunjikar on Thursday urged the court to give direction to the state to permit lawyers to travel by local trains, as the High Court had partially resumed physical hearings.
Lower courts were already holding physical hearings, they argued.
However, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who appeared for the state government told the court that the COVID-19 situation hadn't improved and resuming normal local train services would result in an "explosion" of new infections.
"When the trains were running normally, they used to be overcrowded. Every day, there were 10 to 12 deaths (due to overcrowding)," the AG said.
Even now with limited services, there are reports of trains being crowded, he argued.
However, the bench said that the current arrangement cannot continue for long.
The state government must think about issuing daily passes or some such system to permit lawyers who have physical hearings on a given day to use trains on that day to reach the High Court, the bench said.
A pass system could be started for lawyers commuting to the High Court and if that worked, the authorities could think about a similar system for the lower courts as well, it said.
ALSO READ | Guidelines for reopening of higher educational institutions issued by Health Ministry
"It has been six months. It can't continue for this long. We are not asking you to allow all lawyers together. But you can think about giving electronic passes on an experimental basis," the bench said.
The bench pointed out that although the High Court had resumed physical hearings for all criminal appeals, not many lawyers were attending these cases.
"We have started four physical court rooms, but judges are telling me they don't have enough matters because lawyers are not coming," the bench said.
"If physical hearings are not successful, then we will have to revert to virtual hearings. But, how long can we do that for? Gradually, we have to open up," it said.
The AG said that the state will think about the court's suggestion for e-passes and get back in two weeks.