Author: Anagha K
Saurabh Sharma, a Delhi-based lawyer, moved to High Court in September, demanding a refund of the Rs 500 fine which was imposed on him under the Delhi Epidemic Diseases (Management of COVID-19) Regulations, 2020 according to which authorized Persons to have the right to enforce a fine of Rs 500 for the first violation of the DDMA’s directives or instructions, and a fine of Rs 1,000 for repeated violations. He also demanded compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the alleged mental torture he suffered in public after being cited by police for not wearing a mask in his vehicle.
Sharma’s defense is that his car is in a private region, he was traveling alone, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also clarified that the central government has not released such a directive to wear a mask even if you are driving alone.
Three more similar petitions were filed in the Delhi High Court protesting against the imposition of the fine for not wearing masks even on traveling alone in the car.
THE RULING AND ITS MERITS
The Delhi High Court affirmed the Delhi government’s decision to wear face masks mandatory even for those driving alone in vehicles, calling them a “suraksha kavach” in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Court ruled that a car, even if only occupied by one person, would be considered a “public space” and that wearing a mask inside would be mandatory
Justice Prathiba M Singh wrote in her ruling that a person traveling alone in a car or vehicle may be exposed to the virus in a variety of ways. For example, Prior to entering the vehicle, the individual may have visited a store, an office, a hospital, or a busy street. For ventilation purposes, such an individual can be forced to keep windows open. The car might also get stopped at a traffic signal at which point the individual may buy some item from a street vendor by rolling down the window.
She further said that there might also be a possibility where there were other passengers in the car previous to the process where the driver is now alone. It added that a car would not be a public place just because the person is traveling alone in the car.
The single-judge bench also emphasized upon the possibility where elderly family members or children may be picked up from school, or maybe only friends or colleagues may ride in the near 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 a few hours after the occupant of the car has released the same. There are various possibilities through which a person sitting alone in the car might also get infected with covid.
She also stated that the term “public place” has been specified in different statutes based on the context and that the question of what constitutes a “public place” cannot be answered uniformly.
This was not the First time where the court held a car “A Public Place”. Recently in the case of Satvinder Singh Saluja & Ors Vs. The State of Bihar, The bench consisting of Justices Ashok Bhushan and K M Joseph said that Section 2(17A) of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016 defines a “public place” to mean any place to which the public has access, whether as a matter of right or not — and includes all places visited by the general public, and also includes any open space.
The court further said While the public does not have a right to enter a private vehicle when it is on the public road, the public does have the ability to do so. As a result, we cannot consider the argument that the vehicle in which the appellants are traveling does not fall within the scope of a “public place” as specified in Section 2(17A) of the Bihar Excise Act.