Prove that ban on locals for unvaxxed is in public interest: Bombay HC to Maharashtra govt

09 February,2022 07:44 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Agencies

HC asks the state govt to put on record that a meeting had been held, the matter discussed and the decision was taken with reason

Commuters board a local train at Dadar station. File Pic

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday asked the Maharashtra government to prove that its decision to prohibit unvaccinated people from travelling in local trains was in larger public interest, and hence must not be interfered with.

No record of decision-making

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik gave the direction after the state government's counsel Anil Anturkar informed the court that a meeting had been held last year to decide several SOPs amid the pandemic, but no minutes of the meeting had been recorded when the state decided to prohibit unvaccinated people from using local trains.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the prohibition, claiming that it was arbitrary, discriminatory and in breach of one's fundamental right to move freely across the country as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (d) of the Constitution.

In the previous hearing, the HC had asked the state to submit such minutes of meeting to show that its decision was reasonable and based on expert advice. On Tuesday, the court pointed out that the state government's own rules mandated that minutes of meetings be always recorded.

Accepting that there had been "an infraction" and the minutes were not recorded, Anturkar said the state government can, however, say on oath in an affidavit that a meeting did take place and such a prohibition on unvaccinated people had been taken not as a discriminatory measure, but to check the spread of infections.

"Merely because the minutes of the meeting were not taken, the entire decision cannot be vitiated," the advocate told the court.

HC asks for proof

The bench, however, asked the state government to submit something basic to show that a meeting had been held and the issue had been discussed with reason.

"You will have to show that when there is a defect in a decision-making process, but such a decision is beneficial for citizens, and in the larger public interest, such decision must not be interfered with by the court," the court said. The HC directed Anturkar to produce on Thursday judgments passed by the Supreme Court to prove the above argument.

The Union government's counsel Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh told the HC that the Centre didn't have any policy that discriminated between unvaccinated and vaccinated people.

"We (Union government) cannot force anyone to get vaccinated. Merely because we are saying you are expected to get vaccinated; it cannot be that people are forced to take it... However, it is also our stand that vaccination must be seen as a positive step, meant for the larger good and, we have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated," Singh said.

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