Observing that prevailing pandemic situation in the city does not indicate any imminent “third wave” and that most of the public amenities are being made open to the citizens, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the Maharashtra government to consider within five days as to why the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) cannot be allowed to conduct its standing committee meetings through physical mode.
The court, while hearing a PIL by two BJP councillors, also directed the chairman of the Shiv Sena-led BMC’s standing committee to allow petitioners to physically attend the panel meeting being conducted on Tuesday afternoon.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand S Karnik was hearing a PIL by two members of the standing committee in BMC, Vinod Mishra and Makarand Narwekar, belonging to the BJP. The petition challenged the notice issued by BMC secretary on October 1 pertaining to convening of the meeting of the panel through virtual mode on Tuesday from 2 pm.
Advocates Amogh Singh and Jeet Gandhi for the petitioners raised the grievance that the meeting is scheduled to be held through the virtual platform, thereby depriving them an opportunity to remain physically present for the same, as their voices and views were not being considered through online mode.
The petitioners referred to earlier instances of “malfunctioning” of the virtual platform which had disabled them from effectively participating in the virtual meetings of the Standing Committee. The PIL sought to stay the notice of the meeting and to direct the BMC to conduct further meetings of the panel in the physical presence of the members.
Senior advocate Anil Sakhare, representing the BMC, said that from April 16, all meetings of the panel have been conducted in virtual mode and denied allegations that petitioners were disabled from participating in earlier meetings held virtually due to technical issues.
Thereafter, Sakhare, on instructions received from the officers of the civic body, submitted that only the Chairman of the Standing Committee and the members of the Opposition parties will be permitted to attend the meeting on Tuesday physically while the rest of the members will be required to join it through the virtual platform.
Partly allowing the prayer in PIL, the bench observed in the order, “The prevailing situation in Mumbai does not point to any imminent third wave of the pandemic. Schools and colleges have re-opened, and children are attending the schools and colleges physically. All the courts in the State of Maharashtra are functioning as in the pre-pandemic days. Markets, malls, restaurants, etc. are open and vehicular traffic on the road is also substantial. Offices are also functioning as if Covid was a thing of the past.”
The Court added, “In such a situation, it defies logic as to why only a few of the Standing Committee members including its Chairman would be permitted to attend the meeting physically and the rest required to attend through the virtual platform. If any member of the Standing Committee wishes to participate in the meeting physically, he should be allowed to do so.”
The HC then permitted the petitioners to physically attend the panel meeting scheduled on Tuesday. Disposing of their plea, the court noted: “We wish the Government in the appropriate department to take an appropriate decision as early as possible, but not later than five days next, as to why physical meetings shall not be permitted to be conducted by the Municipal Corporation. A decision must be given in this regard before the next meeting of the Standing Committee of the Municipal Corporation.”