By LE Desk

Mumbai, April 16: The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to reschedule its standing committee meeting that was to be held at 1pm through the virtual mode on Thursday. 

The court’s decision came after two members of the standing committee – a statutory body that approves and allocates funds required for civic body’s various projects or works – sought an offline meeting, citing that the 35 issues to be decided upon were “important”.

However, though the court rescheduled the meeting, it also held that if courts could function virtually in light of the surge in the Covid-19 cases, the standing committee meeting too could be held online, and disposed of the public interest litigation (PIL).

The vacation bench of Justice Suresh Gupte and Justice Abhay Ahuja, while hearing the PIL filed by sitting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporators Vinod Mishra and Makarand Narwekar, was informed by advocate Jeet Gandhi that the petition challenged BMC’s April 12 proposal to conduct the standing committee meeting on April 15 (Thursday) virtually, the Hindustan Times reported.

Gandhi submitted that as 35 issues involving crores of rupees, including the one pertaining to Nahur railway station, was on the agenda, at least 27 members of the standing committee and the BMC officials concerned be allowed to conduct a physical meeting by following Covid-19 protocols.

Gandhi said the petitioners’ insisted on physical meeting because they apprehended that the agenda would be passed with a brute majority through virtual hearing by muting Opposition members. He added that BMC had not followed proper procedure, as it had intimated members about the meeting being held on virtual mode only on Wednesday night, as a result of which the 24-hour notice period was not abided, and hence, the meeting be postponed.

Senior counsel Anil Sakhare argued that as the state government had restricted congregation of more than 25 persons, the panel meeting could not be held physically. He further added that the issues on agenda would be taken up as per serial numbers.

After the court asked if the meeting could be held virtually on Friday, Sakhare took instructions from the committee’s chairman and BMC commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal and informed the court that the meeting would be rescheduled to Friday noon through videoconferencing instead of Thursday, according to the Hindustan Times.

While disposing of the petition, the bench noted, “The petitioners should be permitted to effectively attend and place submissions before the meeting. Petitioners will also be entitled to record the entire proceedings of the April 16 [Friday’s] meeting. We have not applied our mind to the merits of the controversy raised by the petitioners.”

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