A DAY after the Gujarat High Court directed the state government to “come out with a notification” mandating community service at Covid centres for those found not wearing masks or violating social distancing rules, the Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the order.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah stayed the direction on a plea by the state government, which contended that it is “contrary to law and will have adverse impact on the public health system”. The petition said the High Court direction “has the potential of backfiring and may actually result in increase of the number of Covid cases, rather than achieve the object with which it has been passed”.
Appearing for the state, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the direction was harsh and disproportionate and if implemented will lead to health issues for those who are subjected to it.
“Finding substance in the submissions of Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General, we stay the directions issued in paragraph 13 of the judgment dated 02.12.2020,” the court said. “However, we direct that the State of Gujarat through Additional Chief Secretary, Home shall ensure that the guidelines issued by the Union of India as well as the State of Gujarat requiring wearing of masks and keeping social distancing are vigorously implemented and the police officials and other administrative authorities may ensure that the guidelines are scrupulously followed and whosoever is found violating the guidelines, appropriate action be taken against such persons, including realisation of fine”.
During the hearing, the bench expressed unhappiness over enforcement of the Covid-19 safety protocol by the state authorities.
Seeking the stay, Mehta said sometimes cure is more dangerous than the prevention. Mask should be worn, but this is not the cure for not wearing it, he said, adding that the harm of not wearing a mask is much less than sending a person to a Covid centre. Mehta said the High Court order was well-intentioned.
Justice Shah then said the High Court had passed several orders on Covid safety but implementation was lacking.
When Justice Reddy asked Mehta about his suggestion for the best implementation of the High Court’s intention, he said the court could consider staying the order with the reasoning that the stay does not absolve people who do not wear masks. He said chief secretaries of states should explain how they plan to maintain mask and social-distancing protocols.
The court said the question would still remain about the implementation part and added that there is some lag somewhere, which has to be detected.
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