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Supreme Court Stays Gujarat HC Order Directing Persons Not Wearing Masks To Do Community Service At COVID-19 Centres

Radhika Roy
3 Dec 2020 8:15 AM GMT
Supreme Court Stays Gujarat HC Order Directing Persons Not Wearing Masks To Do Community Service At COVID-19 Centres
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The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the Gujarat High Court order which had directed the State of Gujarat to come up with a policy or order that would direct for those caught without a face cover/mask to be compulsorily sent to COVID-19 care centres for community service.While staying the order, the Supreme Court remarked that the Gujarat High Court direction was disproportionate and...

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The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the Gujarat High Court order which had directed the State of Gujarat to come up with a policy or order that would direct for those caught without a face cover/mask to be compulsorily sent to COVID-19 care centres for community service.

While staying the order, the Supreme Court remarked that the Gujarat High Court direction was disproportionate and may lead to health problems. The top court however asserted that masks are compulsory & violators should be penalized as per law.

The State of Gujarat through Additional Chief Secretary has been directed to ensure that the guidelines issued by the Union of India and Gujarat for wearing masks are vigorously implemented in the State by the Police officials.

A Bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah heard the special leave petition filed against yesterday's High Court order on the same being urgently mentioned by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta.

In today's hearing, the SG submitted that though the problem of not wearing masks was serious, the solution did not lie in punishing them with service in COVID wards.

"Harm of not wearing masks is much less than sending a person to a COVID centre. The problem has to be addressed on a war footing", submitted the SG.

Justice Shah agreed with the submission and stated that it would be difficult to execute the same – "There is a lack of will though, so far as implementation is concerned and the High Court has taken note of this. The Centre comes out with SOPs and guidelines, but what about their implementation? People are gathering in marriage functions, roaming around in malls!".

The SG informed the Bench that social distancing and masks were available to citizens and that was the only solution available to humanity.

"This is perhaps in our culture, to be undisciplined, hanging masks etc. is the norm", stated the SG.

Justice Bhushan then asked the SG about the fine imposed in Gujarat for not wearing the mask. The SG responded that the same was Rs. 1000 and police officials were fining non-compliant persons.

Justice Bhushan remarked, "Those people who do not wear masks are violating fundamental rights of other persons. Do people who hold gatherings in terms of SOPs have to inform authorities? Who is responsible?". The SG responded that there was a requirement to inform the appropriate authorities.

At this juncture, Justice Shah noted that there was a press conference called wherein it had been said that no permission would be required. To this, the SG responded that he was appearing for the Centre and State of Gujarat, and it was not his place to blame States.

SG then requested for the Gujarat High Court order to be stayed and informed the Bench, "A specific observation that this does not absolve anyone from wearing a mask may be given and the penalty may be insinuated in the abeyance order".

"Let Secretary of every State issue a mandate of how they would implement this mandate of social distancing etc. These are some off the cuff suggestions I am talking about",
contended the SG.

On that note, the Supreme Court, stating that there was substance in the challenge by the Union to the Gujarat High Court order, stayed the same.

It was on December 2 that a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J B Pardiwala directed the Gujarat government to come out with a policy or order, directing that all those caught not wearing face cover/mask shall be compulsorily sent to COVID-19 care centres for community service.

The Bench issued the aforesaid direction after the State Government took a stand before the Court that it was not inclined to introduce community service for violators of social distancing norms and/or for those not wearing face cover/mask at the COVID Centres on non-medical positions.

The Bench, while noting in its order that "stand of the State is unfortunate considering that it is the State which is required to act in the most proactive manner in such times", remarked,

"The stand of the State has left us with no option but to issue certain directions, considering the gravity and enormity of the situation."

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