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'Intention To Protect Politicians', Karnataka High Court Observes On Govt Policy To Not Prosecute Persons For Not Wearing Masks

Mustafa Plumber
19 Nov 2020 2:51 PM GMT
Intention To Protect Politicians, Karnataka High Court Observes On Govt Policy To Not Prosecute Persons For Not Wearing Masks
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'A small man, if he forgets to wear a mask, he will be promptly penalized and when politicians come together and if there is a violation, they will be let off!', the HC observed.

The State Government on Thursday informed the Karnataka High Court that it was never its intention to prosecute or imprison persons who were found not wearing masks in public places or not maintaining social distancing, under the stringent provisions of section 5 of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Act. The statement is made in an affidavit filed in response to the direction issued by...

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The State Government on Thursday informed the Karnataka High Court that it was never its intention to prosecute or imprison persons who were found not wearing masks in public places or not maintaining social distancing, under the stringent provisions of section 5 of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Act.

The statement is made in an affidavit filed in response to the direction issued by the court directing the state government to inform whether it will prosecute Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya and other political leaders who have violated norms by not wearing face masks during political rallies and have admitted to the breach in the form of paying the fine amounts imposed on them.

As per the Act, anyone who contravenes the regulations/orders and directions issued can be imprisoned to a period of minimum three months which can be extended upto five years and with a fine which may be not less than Rs 50,000 and may extend upto Rs 2Lakh.

The affidavit reads "It is never the intention of the state that person's who were found not wearing masks in public places or not maintaining social distancing must be punished in a manner prescribed under the stringent provisions of section 5 of the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Act."

Further, it is said "It is the uniform policy of the state that it does not intend to prosecute mask/social distancing violators, with such harsh punishment and it is deemed sufficient that the fine of Rs 250/100, would suffice for such offences. In this regard it is further submitted that the true intention of the government would be inferred from the more stringent fines that have been prescribed under regulations 3, from owners of public places and organisers of public functions."

It is also said that an Ordinance will soon be issued amending the existing provisions of the Act, to ensure that its (state governments) policy is accurately reflected in the legal provisions.

A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty took objection to the stand taken by the state.

"It cannot be the policy of the state to not prosecute. Once an offence is made out which is a cognizable offence, can the state take a stand that we will not prosecute. Does this stand in wake of the Lalita Kumari judgement?" , the bench observed.

The bench also remarked that "Ultimately the intention appears to be to protect a particular class (politicians) of violators. A small man, if he forgets to wear a mask, he will be promptly penalized and when politicians come together and if there is violation, they will be let off!"

Advocate Vikram Huilgol appearing for the state contended that "State is not protecting any particular class (politicians), intention of only imposing fine on violators has been all along for everyone. However, bonafidely there has been a serious error in drafting of the Ordinance it should have been more thought out. Now the only option is to take corrective measures."

Following which the bench said "We will ask the petitioner to implead all recognized political parties to be made as respondents to the petition and then take assurance from them that they will stop indulging in all this."

The bench in its order said:

"We have perused the affidavit of Jawaid Akhtar, Additional Chief Secretary, health and family welfare department, it is stated on the ground that state is coming out with a fresh Ordinance that though the offences under section 5 of Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Act may be cognizable, the state is not willing to register FIR. Since, most of the incidents which are reported of violation of the provisions of the regulations framed under the said act, are by political parties, we direct counsel for petitioner to place on record a list of recognized political parties, so that notices can be issued to them.

The direction was given during the hearing of a petition filed by Letzkit foundation seeking strict implementation of the social distancing and compulsory wearing of face masks norms. The petitioners had highlighted that during the political rallies the norms were thrown to the wind. The matter will be further heard on November 24.


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