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CMRL doesn’t have jurisdiction to fine maskless travellers: Madras HC

The order, made in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, might have been issued in public interest and its intention might have been good.

By: PTI | Chennai |
November 12, 2021 6:47:03 am
The Madras High Court in Chennai. (File)

The Madras High Court on Thursday ruled Chennai Metro Rail Limited has no jurisdiction to fine its maskless travellers and set aside CMRL’s earlier order levying and collecting a sum of Rs 200 from such persons as penalty.

The order, made in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, might have been issued in public interest and its intention might have been good. But CMRL has no jurisdiction or authority to do so, the first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P D Audikesavalu said.

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The best-intentioned actions, not backed by the authority of law, cannot stand, the judges said.

As regards the refund of the collected fine amount to the persons concerned, the bench permitted CMRL to retain it as the quantum of Rs 87,000 was meagre. Further it would be almost impossible to identify the persons on whom fines were imposed. Even such individuals may no longer be interested in recovering the same, the bench said.

The court was allowing a PIL petition from R Muthukrishnan, who challenged a CMRL press release dated April 10 this year, announcing imposing the fine of Rs 200 from the maskless travellers from the very next day.

Appearing party-in-person, Muthukrishnan prayed the court to direct the CMRL to refund Rs 3,600 collected from 18 maskless travellers, who were caught till April 23, when the petition was filed. The amount could be remitted to the TN State Free Legal Aid authority, he had added.

The bench noted that the state Health and Family Welfare department had issued a gazette notification on September 4, 2020 by which, in exercise of the power of the government under Section 138-A of the Tamil Nadu Public Health Act, 1939, certain categories of offences punishable with fine were introduced.

“It is not necessary to go into the veracity of such provision or the ordinance or subsequent enactment introduced in such regard. Plainly, despite assuming that the ordinance or the subsequent enactment were and are valid, the authority to impose such a penalty could not have been appropriated by the CMRL without the law governing it and expressly providing the jurisdiction to impose the penalty,” the bench said.

If at all, the State might have imposed such a penalty, assuming that the ordinance and the subsequent enactment were and are valid by treating a metro station and metro coach as public places. However, merely because the State had the authority to impose the fine, the same would not imply that CMRL could draw there from or had the power or jurisdiction to issue the impugned press release, however well-intentioned the same may have been.

There can be no doubt that the press release was issued in public interest and in furtherance of public health. However, whatever may have been the pious intention behind the move, when the action is confiscatory in nature as the imposition of a fine or penalty, it has to be backed by due sanction of law. The best-intentioned actions, not backed by the authority of law, cannot stand, the judges added.

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