Terming as “absurd” the Delhi government order making it mandatory for those travelling in cars to wear face masks, the Delhi High Court Tuesday questioned why the said order was still prevailing and asked the State why it was not being withdrawn.
The court said that it expects the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) to have a relook at its various guidelines in wake of the change in the Covid situation.
“Please take instructions. Why is this order still prevailing? It is absurd actually. You’re sitting in your own car and you must wear a mask?” the division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh told a government counsel.
The observation came after senior advocate Rahul Mehra, who represents the government in a matter in which the court has been monitoring the Covid situation in Delhi, mentioned the DDMA guideline before the court and said that the same needs to be revisited. He referred to a tweet posted by a woman on January 29 in which she stated that she was drinking coffee with her mother in the car when she was fined Rs 2,000.
“Pandemic is almost over. All those days when this was probably the right thing to do is not the right thing to do now. This relaxation must come in,” submitted Mehra.
Mehra was reminded by the court that it was a government order and that a single bench had only upheld it last year. The court said that for it to be struck down, the matter should be before it.
“It’s a Delhi government order. Then why don’t you withdraw it?” said the court, after Mehra submitted that it was a wrong order even if passed by the government.
“Mr Mehra has submitted that in the light of the change in the situation, the DDMA should also look at several orders issued by it in relation to Covid restrictions. We hope and expect the DDMA to look into all aspects, and premised on medical opinion, issue fresh orders with regard to Covid restrictions,” the division bench said.
Four petitions were filed in 2020 before the court challenging the imposition of a fine of Rs 500 – the same stands now increased to Rs 2,000 – on the petitioners for not wearing a mask while travelling alone in a private car. In her judgment passed last year in April, a single-bench upheld the government decision and said that a person travelling in a vehicle or car even if alone could be exposed to the virus in various ways.
In April 2020, the DDMA issued various measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including the compulsory wearing of masks in a moving vehicle.
“The person may have visited a market, or workplace, or hospital or a busy street, prior to entering the car or vehicle. Such a person may be required to keep windows open for the purposes of 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 exposed to a street-side vendor. If a person is travelling in the car alone, the said status is not a permanent one,” Justice Prathiba M Singh had said.
A vehicle, even if occupied by only one person, would constitute a ‘public place’ and wearing a mask inside it would be compulsory, the court had ruled in that verdict. The word ‘public place’ has to be interpreted in this case in the context of the Covid pandemic and to determine it, the manner in which the coronavirus spreads is the crucial part, it said.
Meanwhile, the division bench Tuesday said the government can consider developing a mobile app where the users can access information with regard to the availability of nearby hospitals, the specialities they are offering and the bed availability position. “Other medical-related services such as booking an ambulance or hearse should also be possible through the same system,” it said.