At a time when doctors are urging people to wear their masks in public places as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, different states and cities have issued their own directives.
As per the Ministry of Home Affairs’ National Directive for COVID-19 Management, “Wearing of face cover is compulsory in public places; in workplaces; and during transport.”
But the question of whether a fine is imposed on motorists not wearing a mask in their vehicles seemingly depends on whether authorities in a given state or city deem your personal car a ‘public palace’ or not while on the road.
In a July 2019 judgement, the Supreme Court held that a car or any other private passenger vehicle “shall be deemed to be a public place in view of the fact that when a private vehicle is passing through a public road, it cannot be accepted that the public have no access to it. It is true that the public may not have access to such a private vehicle as a matter of right but the public have the opportunity to approach the private vehicle while it is on the public road.”
This was a judgement passed based on a criminal case filed pertaining to drunk driving.
Here’s how some of our major cities have addressed the issue of wearing masks in cars:
Delhi: Wearing a mask is compulsory in personal and official vehicles, irrespective of whether you’re travelling alone or not, as per the Delhi government. Earlier this week, they argued before the Delhi High Court that a personal vehicle cannot be said to be a “private zone”. The Delhi government has raised the fine amount to Rs 2,000 from Rs 500.
Mumbai: According to a directive issued on 29 June, “Any person who is moving around in his personal or official vehicle must compulsorily weark mask.” This is very similar to the guidelines issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) in April, which the Delhi government is using to justify its position. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation states that those not wearing masks outside their homes will have to pay a fine of Rs 1,000.
Bengaluru: The city’s municipal authority, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), issued an order on 2 November clarifying that a person driving a four-wheeler alone with his/her windows pulled up completely need not wear a mask. But a person riding a two-wheeler, without a pillion rider, must wear one. Just a week prior to this order, however, the BBMP said it was compulsory for motorists to wear masks while traveling irrespective of whether they’re alone or not. Not wearing a mask in a public place entails a fine of Rs 250.
Chennai: Greater Chennai Corporation Commissioner G Prakash’s office has told this publication that if you’re driving alone in your car, it’s not necessary to wear a mask, although just out of precaution, they have advised people to wear masks at all times. The fine amount imposed for not wearing a mask in public places is Rs 200.
Hyderabad: Residents of the city have to pay a Rs 1,000 fine, if they don’t wear a mask in a public place. The authorities have issued no specifications around whether you’re inside your car or not. Similarly, Kolkata has not issued any specific directive or order in this regard as well.
Meanwhile, senior officials of the Central government have been non-committal on the issue. In early September, the health secretary clarified that the Union health ministry issued no directive on whether a motorist has to wear a mask if they are alone in a car. However, he added that the traffic police can still impose a fine if there is more than one passenger.
Whether cities and state governments should impose fines on motorists for not wearing masks while commuting alone is a debate that requires closer inspection. Having said that, it’s advisable for citizens to wear masks at all times. Why risk it?
(Edited Yoshita Rao)