Bombay High Court directed Maharashtra government to prove that its decision to prohibit unvaccinated persons from travelling in local trains in Mumbai, though taken without maintaining any record, was in larger public interest and hence, must not be interfered with.
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 though a meeting had been held last year to decide several SOPs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, no minutes of the meeting had been recorded when the state decided to prohibit persons who were yet to receive both doses of COVID-19 vaccine from using local trains.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation 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 High Court 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 that 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 senior advocate told the court.
The bench, however, said that while it did not want any "elaborate reasoning", the state government must submit something basic to show that a meeting had been held and the issue had discussed with reason. "When we decide on hybrid or physical hearings, we do so based on the opinion of the state task force, other experts. And whatever is discussed in the meeting, we note down in black and white," the court said.
"You will have to show that when there is a defect in a decision-making process, but such decision is beneficial for citizens, and in the larger public interest, such decision must not be interfered with by the court," the bench told the state government.
The High Court directed Anturkar to produce on Thursday judgements passed by the Supreme Court to prove the above argument. The Union government's counsel Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh told the High Court that the Centre did not have any policy that discriminated between unvaccinated and vaccinated persons.
"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," the ASG said.
( With PTI Inputs)