In a path-breaking judgment, Delhi High Court ruled even a personal vehicle occupied only by a single person and without any other occupants is a public place, not a private zone, hence wearing a mask is compulsory.
Delivering the judgment the single-judge bench of Justice Pratibha M Singh observed, “A mask is like a Suraksha Kavach for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It protects the person wearing it as also the person who is exposed. Wearing of masks has been one measure that has saved millions of lives”.
The court ruled this in response to a petition filed by an advocate seeking compensation of Rs 10 lakh after he was fined Rs 500 for not wearing a mask.
The Petitioner Saurabh Sharma a practicing advocate was traveling alone in his car near Laxmi Nagar Metro Station, with the mask hanging from one of his ears on his face. He argued that he was not wearing the mask because he was alone and intended to wear it as soon as he stepped out of the car but was still fined a sum of Rs. 500 under the Delhi Epidemic Diseases Regulations 2020.
Contesting the case, the Senior Counsel for the petitioner argued that the challan signed by the Executive Magistrate was without any authority of law. He further submitted that, as the phrase ‘public place’ is not defined in the law and a private car cannot be considered a public place.
Public Health and Sanitation’ falls in List 2 of the VII Schedule of the Constitution of India and hence is the exclusive responsibility of each State. Even otherwise the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has not issued any guidelines directing people to wear masks while driving alone in a vehicle. Hence the imposition of the fine was unjust and illegal as the petitioner was alone in his private vehicle, the Counsel argued on behalf of the petitioner
Dismissing the petition the Court observed that a vehicle even if occupied by only one person is a public place, and hence it is compulsory to wear a mask.
“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 held.
The Court relied on WHO guidelines and government notifications that said a person traveling alone in a car could also get exposed to Coronavirus in various ways: “A person traveling 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 busy street, before entering the car or vehicle. Such a person may be required to keep windows open for 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 contacted with the virus.”
Hence the Court opined that if the vehicle traverses through public places, there may be others who may risk exposure. In this regard, the Court also noted that wearing masks is encouraged even within the home if there are elderly persons or persons with co-morbidities.
The Centre also said that under provisions of Section 22 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the State Executive Committee is empowered to implement the guidelines by the Government of India, in its local context and epidemiology.