The Delhi government has reversed its order requiring drivers to wear masks while on their own after the High Court referred to it as absurd. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced the decision via Twitter. The Delhi High Court Tuesday ruled that the Delhi government’s order requiring people to wear masks when driving alone under COVID-19 is absurd and asked why the order is still operative. ‘It is a Delhi government order, why don’t you withdraw it. It is absurd actually. You are sitting in your own car and you must wear the mask?’, the bench said.
Why does this order prevail? The Delhi government counsel was told to take instructions by Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh. The bench made this observation after the Delhi government’s counsel spoke of a man who was challaned for not wearing a mask while having coffee with his mother while sitting in their car with the windows open. A senior advocate representing the Delhi government said in the hearing that the high court’s single judge order of April 7, 2021, which did not intervene in the Delhi government’s decision to impose challans for people who drive alone in private cars without masks, was an unfortunate decision.
Someone sitting in a car with rolled-up windows and being challaned for Rs 2,000. The single judge order is very unfortunate, he said, adding that when the DDMA order was passed, the situation was different, and now the pandemic is almost over. In response to the bench’s reminder that the initial order was passed by the Delhi government, which was then challenged before the single judge, Mehra said whether the order came from the Delhi government or Central government, it was a flawed order and should be revisited.
Justice Sanghi stated that the division bench should set aside the order, but it could only do that when the order is brought before it. ‘If that order is bad why don’t you withdraw it’, the bench said. In 2021, the single judge dismissed four petitions filed by lawyers opposing the imposition of challans for driving without a mask while in a private vehicle. COVID-19 had stated that wearing a mask while driving in a private vehicle is mandatory and that a face cover serves as a protective shield against the spread of infection.
As a result of their arguments, the lawyers argued that the District Magistrates, who had the power to impose fines, could not have sub-delegated that power to another. While disagreeing with this contention, the single judge observed that the definition of ‘authorised persons’ is inclusive and expansive in nature, and District Magistrates are vested with the power to further authorize any officers to issue challans.
Health is a state subject, and the Delhi government has the authority to decide whether people should wear masks in a car when they are alone. According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, no such direction has been issued. According to Delhi’s government, a policy order mandated wearing masks while operating an official or personal vehicle in April 2020, and the order is still in force. The Supreme Court had also ruled that a private vehicle was a public place.
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