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Wearing face masks casually shall be liable for punitive action: Punjab and Haryana High Court

In the present writ petition surrounding the rising Covid-19 cases, the quorum of Rajan Gupta J. and Karamjit J. of the Chandigarh High Court opined that the state authorities should be vigilant to any sort of complaints rising out of the current situation. In the present case of Rishi v State of Haryana [CRWP-242-2021], it was also asserted by the court that the general public should follow mask etiquettes as well.

The present petition arose out of the grim situation of Covid-19 spread throughout the country. On account of unavailability of basic amenities, the Court looked into the matter and opined that Nodal Agencies in every District headed by the Deputy Commissioner, concerned Superintendent of Police, a representative of the Municipal Council/Corporation, and a Civil Surgeon should be functional. Accordingly, it was decided by the senior officers of Government that Secretary, Legal Services Authority in every District would also be a member of the said Committee as he receives a number of complaints arising out of the covid situation. It was assured that in every District meeting of the committee shall be held on a daily basis, by way of electronic means, if necessary, in view of the crisis and prompt response will be given by the Administration as and when a call is received on the helpline number, or by any of the members of the Committee

The Court scrutinized the situation and uncovered that a war room was already in operation which was considering the complaints of the people. A dedicated phone number was also functional. It was brought to the notice of the court that certain private hospitals were charging exorbitant fee and are fleecing the public. This was happening due to lack of control by the authorities.

All the three respondent States assured that the complaints/grievances shall be promptly redressed in case a call is received on the designated helpline number. If not adequate then more personnel shall be deputed to attend such calls and PCRs/Beats in the nearby vicinity shall be activated. The court made a point that such numbers shall be widely publicized on the electronic and print media in order to make the public aware of the help available at hand and instill confidence in the authorities in the current pandemic situation.

The bench was further addressed by all the three States that such grievance would be promptly looked into and punitive measures shall be taken against such private hospital and medical institutions, if the situation so warrants. Further, to keep a close vigilance, it was also suggested that surprise checks should also be conducted by the concerned authorities on such private facilities.

The court observed that “States shall also depute officials of the municipal bodies/health authorities to ensure that mask etiquette are followed by the general public. Heads of the public, as well as private institutions, would sensitize the employees to wear masks in appropriate manner. Persons who wear the masks casually leaving their mouth and/or nose exposed would be treated on the same footing as those not wearing the mask at all and liable to same punitive action.

Accordingly, the court held that “The petition is hereby disposed of with liberty to the amicus curiae to seek revival of the petition, if necessary. Respective States shall file a status report regarding day to day developments in every District by way of a short affidavit in the Registry within a week.

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