In light of the Covid-19 threat diminishing and lockdown norms being relaxed substantially, the Bombay high court on Tuesday directed the state to reconsider its order asking the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) not to conduct standing committee meeting physically and take a decision on it within five days.
The court also directed the chairman of the BMC’s standing committee to permit members to physically attend the standing committee meeting being conducted at 2pm. The order was passed in a public interest litigation filed by two BJP counsellors who claimed that their voices and views were not being considered through the online mode and hence wanted the meeting to be held physically.
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice M S Karnik while hearing the PIL filed by Vinod Mishra and Makarand Narwekar, members of the BMC’s SC, was informed by advocates Amogh Singh and Jeet Gandhi that the PIL was filed challenging the December 21, 2020 and June 28, 2021 notifications of the state government which stipulated that SC meeting of the BMC should be held through video conferencing.
The advocates referred to the October 20, 2020 order of the HC wherein the bench had expressed that the SC meeting should be held physically and not through VC. It was further submitted that as VC meetings were being conducted to bulldoze agendas involving crores of rupees of public money without deliberations, the PIL sought urgent hearing as the chairman of the SC while issuing the agenda for the October 5 meeting had announced that it would be held through VC.
The advocates further submitted that as the lockdown conditions had been relaxed substantially across various sectors the chairman of SC should be directed to allow members to attend the meeting scheduled to be held at 2 pm physically and also sought setting aside of the two state government notifications as the need for VC meetings did not exist anymore.
Senior counsel Anil Sakhare for the BMC however submitted that the VC mode did not disallow any members from placing their say on the issues on the agenda and hence the claims of the petitioners were not maintainable.
After hearing the submissions the bench observed, “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…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 court then directed the department of the state to take an appropriate decision within five days as to why physical meetings could not be conducted by the civic corporation and also directed the decision to be taken before the next SC meetings and disposed of the PIL.
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