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"Mask Is Like A Suraksha Kavach": Delhi High Court Holds Wearing Of Mask Compulsory Even While Alone In Vehicle

Shreya Agarwal
7 April 2021 5:11 AM GMT
Mask Is Like A Suraksha Kavach: Delhi High Court Holds Wearing Of Mask Compulsory Even While Alone In Vehicle
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A single judge bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh today dismissed writ petitions challenging the imposition of fines by the Delhi government on persons not wearing masks while travelling alone in personal vehicles. The Court said that the mask is like a "suraksha kavach" protecting both the person wearing it and those around."Scientists and international governments advise wearing of a mask....

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A single judge bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh today dismissed writ petitions challenging the imposition of fines by the Delhi government on persons not wearing masks while travelling alone in personal vehicles. The Court said that the mask is like a "suraksha kavach" protecting both the person wearing it and those around.

"Scientists and international governments advise wearing of a mask. The challenge of the pandemic was enormous and the wearing of face masks is necessary whether a person is vaccinated or not," the Court said.

The Court held that a private vehicle moving in a public place, even if occupied by a single person, is a "public place" for the purposes of COVID-19 control.

"A vehicle which is moving across the city, even if occupied at a given point in time by one person, would be a public place owing to the immediate risk of exposure to other persons under varying circumstances. Thus, a vehicle even if occupied by only one person would constitute a 'public place' and wearing of a mask therein,would be compulsory. The wearing of a mask or a face cover in a vehicle, which may be occupied by either a single person or multiple persons is thus,held to be compulsory in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic".

The Court said that a person travelling alone in a car could also get exposed to Coronavirus in various ways :

"A person travelling in a vehicle or car even if he is alone, could be exposed to the virus in various ways. The person may have visited a market, or workplace, or hospital or a busy street, prior to entering the car or vehicle. Such person may be required to keep windows open for the purposes of ventilation. The vehicle may also be required to be stopped at a traffic signal and the person could purchase any product by rolling down the window. The person may thus,be exposed to a street side vendor. If a person is travelling in the car alone, the said status is not a permanent one. It is merely a temporary phase. There could be other occupants in the car prior to the said phase and post the said phase. There could be elderly family members or children who may be picked from the school or even simply friends or colleagues may travel in the car in the immediate future. Such persons can also be exposed to the virus if the occupant was not wearing the mask. The droplets carrying the virus can infect others even after a few hours after the occupant of the car has released the same.There are several possibilities in which while sitting alone in the car one could be exposed to the outside world. Thus, it cannot be said that merely because the person is travelling alone in a car, the car would not be a public place".

The verdict was pronounced on four petitions filed by different lawyers challenging the imposition of challan for not wearing a mask while driving a private vehicle alone. The verdict was reserved on Feb 17.

The Court also observed in the judgment that lawyers had a higher duty to comply with public health protocols, owing to their legal training.

"This Court would also like to add that all the four Petitioners in these cases, being advocates/lawyers ought to recognise and assist in implementation of measures to contain the pandemic,rather than questioning the same. Advocates as a class, owing to their legal training have a higher duty to show compliance especially in extenuating circumstances such as the pandemic. Wearing of masks cannot be made an ego issue.Compliance by advocates and lawyers would encourage the general public to show greater inclination to comply. The duty of advocates and lawyers is of a greater magnitude, especially in the context of the pandemic for enforcement of directives,measures and guidelines issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897and the Disaster Management Act, 2005".

During the proceedings, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, had submitted that it had not issued any direction asking people to wear masks in a car when they are alone. It had further said that health was a state subject and the Delhi government had to take a decision on the question.

The Delhi government had told the court that wearing masks while driving an official or personal vehicle was made compulsory by way of an office order in April last year and it remained in force.

Another petitioner - Sudesh Kumar - told the court that he was challaned despite having wrapped his mouth and nose with a scarf while driving in his car.

Kumar's lawyer had also told the court that the challan does not mention date or time of the offence or the offence itself, it was issued by a sub-inspector, the challan booklet was pre-stamped and signed by a magistrate and no receipt was issued to him for the amount paid.

Sharma's counsel had earlier told the court that subsequent to the April 4, 2020 office order of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), the Union Health Ministry held a press conference where it said persons driving alone in a car are not required to wear a mask.

He had contended that the officials challaning him failed to provide any executive order which makes it mandatory to wear masks while travelling alone in a private vehicle.

He had also contended that in the absence of any law or notification making it mandatory to wear a mask while driving alone in a private vehicle, the levy of fine on him was "ex-facie arbitrary and illegal".

Earlier, arguing against the petition filed Adv. Saurabh Sharma, demanding compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs for the imposition of Rs. 500 as fine for not wearing a mask in his personal vehicle while traveling alone, the Delhi Government had told the court that a personal vehicle is not a private space.

The affidavit filed by the Delhi Government in this regard had stated that the Regulations/Directives/Guidelines are very clear cut that "any person" moving around in his personal or official vehicle must be wearing masks as a mandate. The government had said that even a personal vehicle falls in the said category and cannot be said to be a private zone. For asserting this, the government had relied on a judgment of the Supreme Court wherein it was held that when a private vehicle passes through a public road, the public has the opportunity to "approach the private vehicle" and have access to it.

In light of the Delhi Government's submission, a counsel appearing in connected matters also informed the Court that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare itself had stated that any person sitting in a car alone need not wear a mask.

Click here to read/download the judgment




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