HC declines resumption of Delhi metro services, for now

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday declined for the time being to order resumption of metro rail services in the national capital saying adequate public transport has been permitted to be operated by the AAP government for the public at large.

A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad said as and when the lockdown is further relaxed, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) shall also be permitted to operate as per directions that may be issued by the Centre and AAP government.

“It shall be the duty of the DMRC to ensure adequate steps are taken to maintain social distancing once the Metro is permitted to function, particularly, since DMRC has become the lifeline for citizens of Delhi and the NCR region and, invariably, the compartments are packed to the gills, which can be dangerous in the current Covid-19 pandemic situation,” a bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Subramonium Prasad said.

The Delhi Metro informed the court that they are ready to start operations, and highlighted that the “Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has formulated the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Metro operation after restoration of Metro services post Covid-19 lockdown”.

“Detailed guidelines have been laid down to ensure safety of the passengers and staff of various Metro systems in the country. Main focus areas of the SOP are social distancing, sanitation, thermal screening, disinfection, use of masks and sanitiser, Aarogya Setu app and dissemination of information to passengers,” the Metro stated in its affidavit.

The counsel for the Centre, though, maintained that due to the pandemic, they have to take precautionary measures. The Centre, in its guidelines for the fourth phase of the lockdown, had not allowed Metros to operate. The Delhi government, in its recommendations to the Centre before the fourth phase of the lockdown, said the Metro should be allowed to function, but only those involved in essential services should be allowed to board.

The Centre had, before the fourth phase of the lockdown, written to Metro operators across the country suggesting that QR code-based tickets be linked with the Aarogya Setu app to ensure only “safe passengers” gain entry into stations once restrictions on services are lifted.

“Wearing of face mask/cover shall be mandatory for all commuters during entry into the stations/trains and during the entire journey. Use of Aarogya Setu app will be mandatory for passengers to enter into the stations… some Metros are trying to link QR code ticket with Aarogya Setu App so that only safe passengers as per Aarogya Setu App are issued QR code tickets. Metros using QR code may adopt this if technically feasible,” the Centre’s guidelines stated.

The bench’s oral observations were made during the hearing of a plea by a law student, Shreesh Chadha, seeking to allow operation of public transport in the national capital.

Advocate Prashant Vaxish, appearing for the law student, said that the revised guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs and subsequently by the Delhi government are not adequate to meet the demands of the working population of Delhi.

“With limited capacity in buses and no Metro services, there are bound to be people who are suffering due to lack of access to public transport systems,” Vaxish said. The counsel for DTC stated that the fleet of buses and their frequency is adequately addressing the needs of the public, and undertook before the court that further considerations are being taken to ensure the same. A maximum of 20 people are allowed on a bus in Delhi.

The petitioner’s counsel also pointed out that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has already listed the measures which it intends to take for ensuring safety of commuters once operations are permitted.

Taking note of the submissions, the bench disposed of the plea, observing: “As and when the lockdown is further relaxed, the DMRC shall also be permitted to operate the Metro Rail in terms of the directions that may be issued by the respondents subsequently.”

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