A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court praying that advisory/guidelines be issued for proper handling and disposal of used face masks, which are presently being discharged as household garbage throughout the country, in order to prevent a relapse of COVID-19.
Petitioner-in-person Ankit Gupta, a final year student at NLIU, Bhopal, submits that assessment of the COVID threat led the government to make wearing of face masks mandatory, non-compliance of which has now been made punishable with fine.
Further, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHWF) has issued advisories on a regular basis pertaining to management of safe drinking water, use of N95 masks by health workers, and etc. It also issues guidelines on use of masks by public wherein, the method of disposal of faces masks has been provided but in a very minimalistic manner. "The same has not been published through mass media on a scale which the situation now demands", he avers.
The petition reads that the use of faces masks has sky rocketed since the same has been made mandatory and in absence of awareness of its proper handling and disposal, these are being discharged in the environment as household waste. "There are also no guidelines issued by MoHFW to the local civic agencies in handling such face masks which are disposed off as household waste", iterates the petitioner.
He elaborates that this poses a great threat of community transmission since the workers of civic agencies who collect such domestic waste operate with the danger of getting infected. This danger becomes graver since the same worker goes around the locality the next day to collect the domestic waste which poses a risk of community transmission. It is also the reality that the domestic waste which is collected is first dumped in a nearby garbage house before ultimately being taken to the main garbage centre. Therefore, the possibility of community transmission is further increased.
"The only solution to COVID-19 is to break the chain of community transmission, however, improper handling of such a bio-hazard will pose a great threat of staring another round of community transmission which will then be untraceable...the country is facing a lot both on the economic front and on social front due to COVID-19 and it would not be feasible if the community transmission kicks in again which has hitherto been contained due to nation-wide lockdown", it is contended.
"Therefore, in absence of awareness regarding disposal of face masks by public and any guideline/ advisory by the health ministry for handling of such bio-hazardous waste, the petitioner has moved this PIL", it is stated. Accordingly, the petitioner has sought a direction to the Centre to issue an advisory/ guideline/standard operating procedures for local civic agencies for proper handling and disposal of face masks which are being disposed off from the households as domestic waste. He has also prayed that awareness campaigns be run through mass media to propagate the correct ways for disposal of used face masks by the public.