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HC allows BMC to hold physical meeting of standing committee

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Mumbai, Oct 20 (PTI) The Bombay High Court on Tuesday permitted the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to hold a physical meeting of its standing committee on Wednesday.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni asked the BMC to make arrangements to hold the meeting with 26 members and a dozen officials who will remain present in the general body hall of the civic body, while adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.

'We permit the BMC to make arrangements so that all members who wish to attend will be able to attend the physical meeting and discuss the items on the agenda,' it said.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by two BJP corporators against the BMC's plan to hear 674 proposals in one meeting.

The PIL, moved by Makarand Narwekar and Prabhakar Shinde, alleged that the civic body's intention was to pass all proposals without any discussion.

The petitioners counsel, Amogh Singh, told HC that Rs 2,000 crore would be spent in a single day without any debate by the civic standing committee if it was permitted to go ahead with the virtual meeting.

Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy and advocate Joel Carlos, who appeared for the BMC's standing committee, told the court that the committee had not met since the nationwide lockdown was imposed in March this year.

Chinoy said the 674 items included all the backlog from the last seven months.

The bench, however, asked if it wouldn't have been better for the committee to identify the most urgent matters from the backlog and take them up for discussion in the meeting on Wednesday.

Chinoy said while the panel had listed all 674 matters in the agenda, it was not under any compulsion to take up all the matters for discussion.

'It is a misapprehension (that all matters will be discussed). The items will be taken up serially. Whatever can't be taken up, will go to next month's meeting,' he said.

Senior counsel Anil Sakhre, who appeared for the BMC, told HC that on October 14, the civic body had written to the state government seeking permission to hold the standing committee meeting physically.

Sakhre said the BMC's general body meeting was large enough to accommodate the standing committee members and its officers who are to attend the meeting.

However, the state had not responded to the BMC's request, he said.

The state however, told the court that it had received the BMC's request only on Tuesday.

The court then said it will grant the necessary permission to the BMC for a physical meeting.

'The state resolution bars large gatherings. In marriage ceremonies, a maximum of 50 people allowed. The number of people who will attend the standing committee meeting, with 26 members and 12 officers, is still below 50,' the court said.

'In public interest, we will allow you if you are willing to hold it in your general body meeting hall,' the high court said.

The court said the corporation was 'doing so much to control COVID-19' spread in the city. 'We appreciate its efforts,' it added.

'If its (BMC's) own standing committee members are not allowed to hold a physical meeting, what message does it send to the society?' it said.

It also accepted Chinoy's statement that in the physical meeting, the matters on the agenda will be taken up 'seriatim' and as many matters as possible will be discussed.

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