The Delhi High Court has ruled that wearing of a mask in a vehicle is compulsory during the COVID-19 pandemic even if it is occupied only by its driver and has no other occupants (Saurabh Sharma vs Sub-Divisional Magistrate, East & Ors).
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 of masks is encouraged even within the home if there are elderly persons or persons with co-morbidities. As such, it was held that “a vehicle even if constituted by one person would constitute a public place.. Wearing of mask would be compulsory.”
“Wearing of a mask of a face cover in a vehicle, which may be occupied by either a single person or multiple persons, is… compulsory in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the order further said.
The judgement was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh in a batch of petitions challenging the imposition of fines on those driving alone in their cars while not wearing a mask. All these petitions were dismissed as without merit today, with the Court observing,
“A mask is like a Suraksha Kavach for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It protects the person wearing it was also the person who is exposed…wearing of masks has been one measure that has saved millions of lives.”
Given that the petitioners were lawyers, the Judge added that advocates ought to recognise and assist in the measures to contain the pandemic without questioning the same. They have a higher duty to show compliance, especially in extenuating circumstances, she said.
One of the petitioners, Advocate Saurabh Sharma, had also sought compensation of his Rs. 10 lakh after he was fined Rs. 500.
As per the petitioners, the imposition of such fine was unjust and illegal as travelling alone could not be said to be a “public place”.
In an affidavit filed by the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India maintained that public health was a State subject by virtue of Entry 6 of List III of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
While the Government of India and the State governments were working in collaboration to tackle COVID-19 pandemic, the same did not include any direction from it on mandatory wearing of masks when a person is alone in a vehicle, the Central government stated.
The Delhi government, on the other hand, asserted that a personal vehicle was not a private zone and any person in it must wear a mask compulsorily.
Relying on a Supreme Court judgment on the issue, the Delhi Government submitted that when a private vehicle passes through a public road, the public has the opportunity to “approach the private vehicle” and have access to it.