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Mask Is Mandatory To Wear By Driver Even While Driving Alone, It Is Like “Suraksha Kawach”: Delhi High Court

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Case Name: Saurabh Sharma vs. Sub-Divisional Magistrate (East) & Ors. [W.P. (c) 6595/2020] 


The Supreme Court in a judgement on April 7, 2021, ruled that a face mask is compulsory even when a person is driving a car alone and remarked that the mask is like a “Suraksha Kawach” and the car driver can release droplets consisting of coronavirus which can be harmful to others.

Facts of the Case

The present case was a clubbing of 4 writ petitions challenging the fine imposed upon the Petitioners for not wearing the face masks even while driving alone in the private car. 

In all the four writ petitions, the Petitioners were either practising advocates or lawyers who were driving alone in their cars, referred to as private vehicles. In some, all the windows of the car are closed and drivers were not wearing face masks. They were stopped either by the police personnel along with the executive magistrate and police inspector or by Civil Defence personnel along with the Enforcement team of SDM or by other police officials. After the car stopped, the Petitioners were informed that Rs.500 fine was imposed upon them on the grounds of violation of Delhi Epidemic Diseases (Management of COVID-19) Regulations, 2020 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Regulations of 2020’) for not wearing face masks while being in a private vehicle. All these Petitioners were fined on different dates at a different time of the day and different places. All the Petitioners prayed for the quashing of the challan alleging that they were in the private vehicles and prayed for the refund of challan money along with the compensation. 

Pleadings before the Court

It was submitted by the learned counsel on behalf of the Petitioner that the Executive Magistrate’s signature on the challan for Rs.500/- given to the Petitioner was without legal authority because, while any person driving around in his vehicle was required to wear a mask under the April Order, the same requirement did not exist in the subsequent June Notification. It was also submitted that a person’s private car cannot be considered a public place. Another Petitioner submitted he was wearing a cotton scarf around his mouth and nose while driving his car. Regardless, he was fined, though the challan does not specify what the offence was for which he was fined. Furthermore, the individual who issued the challan had a booklet of challans signed by the District Magistrate but with no description of the specific person, time, vehicle identification number, or place. The District Magistrate’s issuance of the signed booklet was thus illegal and could result in abuse. Another petition used FAQs from the National Health Mission website to suggest that wearing a mask can only be done if an individual is sick or caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19. Otherwise, according to the FAQs, masks should not be thrown out.

On the other hand, the Learned Counsels on behalf of the Respondents submitted that both the April Order and the June Notification were released following the DMA and EDA. In terms of the April Order, the SEC has the authority to issue guidelines in various forms under Section 22(2)(c) of the DMA to ensure disease non-spreading and mitigation. He claimed that the guidelines were released as a result of the DMA’s Section 22 control. As a result, they had legal jurisdiction. Furthermore, the June Notice was in addition to the DDMA’s April Order, and wearing a face mask was still needed. The Court should bear in mind the purpose of issuing such notification/order to curb the disease. It was further submitted that the public place would be any place where the public has access.

Court’s Observation

The single-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Pratibha M Singh observed that even if a person is alone, a person travelling in a truck or car may be exposed to the virus in a variety of ways. Before entering the car, the person may have visited a store, office, or hospital. Persons may be required to keep windows open for ventilation, and vehicles may be required to stop at different locations, infecting others. Travelling by car alone is also not a long-term solution, but rather a process. There may be additional occupants in the vehicle before and after the said process. If the occupant was not wearing the mask, those people might be exposed to the virus.

It was further observed that instead of challenging the efforts to combat the pandemic, all four Petitioners in these cases, as advocates/lawyers, should recognize and assist in their execution. Advocates, as a group, have a greater obligation to comply due to their legal training, especially in extenuating circumstances like the pandemic. Mask-wearing could not be made an ego problem.

Court’s Judgement

The Court held that a moving car through the area, even if only occupied by one person at a given time, will be considered a public place due to the imminent risk of exposure to other people in a variety of situations. As a result, even though only one person is in the car, it would be considered a “public place,” and wearing a mask would be required. In the sense of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a mask or a face cover in a car, which may be occupied by a single individual or several people, is thus deemed mandatory.

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