No objection to increasing frequency of locals: State to HC

Services may be used by general public provided they wear masks and follow physical distancing norms: govt.

The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Friday that it does not have any objection to increasing the frequency of local trains and even the general public can use the services provided they wear masks and follow physical distancing norms.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations seeking a direction to the State government to include lawyers among staff rendering essential services so that they can use local trains to attend physical court hearings. At present, only people working in essential services are permitted to use the trains, which are running in limited numbers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said, “The State has no objection now. But people are not wearing masks and do not maintain social distancing. It is almost like people would rather wear an oxygen mask in the ICU bed of a hospital than a face mask covering their nose and mouth.” He added, “The [novel] coronavirus has not booked a return ticket. It is here to stay. Hence, people need to be careful.”

Mr. Kumbhakoni gave the example of late singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, who was infected with COVID-19 “because of a mistake of sharing a mike with another person”.

The Bench had earlier this week suggested the State government to request the Railways to increase the frequency of trains on the Central, Harbour and Western lines. Mr. Kumbhakoni told the court that the government had written to the Railways. The proposal was forwarded to the Railways Board, which has approved it.

The Bench said, “It is the State government’s duty to enforce safety norms and social distancing rules. In the month of March, the novel coronavirus was unknown to us. But now more than six months have passed and we know more about the virus.”

The Chief Justice said media reports indicate a second wave is expected in December and January. “We need to be prepared for the future,” he said.

Chief Justice Datta said, “Survival is of utmost importance. Something needs to be done to ensure that everyone does not end up at the railway station at the same time. For this, the involvement of ministers is required. It cannot be done by just officers. We need to take a holistic approach.”

The Bench has posted the matter for further hearing on October 19.

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