It is illegal to drive in Delhi, India, without a mask during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic even if the driver is alone in his or her personal vehicle, the Delhi High Court ruled Wednesday.
“A vehicle which is moving across the city, even if occupied at a given point in time by one person, would be a public place owing to the immediate risk of exposure to other persons under varying circumstances,” the single-judge bench of Justice Prathiba M. Singh said on April 7.
Justice Singh ruled:
Thus, a vehicle even if occupied by only one person would constitute a “public place” and wearing of a mask therein would be compulsory. The wearing of a mask or a face cover in a vehicle, which may be occupied by either a single person or multiple persons is thus held to be compulsory in the context of the COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic.
The Delhi High Court pronounced the verdict while dismissing four petitions challenging the Delhi government’s collection of fines from people found driving alone in their personal vehicles without a mask in recent months.
India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told the Delhi High Court on Wednesday it “had not issued any direction asking people to wear masks in a car when they are alone. It had further said that health was a state subject and the Delhi government had to take a decision on the question,” the Indian legal news site Live Law reported.
Delhi, officially the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, is both a city and federal territory of India. It contains India’s national capital, New Delhi.
“The Delhi government had told the court that wearing masks while driving an official or personal vehicle was made compulsory by way of an office order in April last year and it remained in force,” according to Live Law.
Delhi’s government further told the court that a personal vehicle is not a private space, citing a previous ruling by the Indian Supreme Court to assert its position.
India’s Supreme Court ruled in July 2019 that a private car traveling on a public road in India may be deemed a “public place.”
“The court has essentially overruled a 1999 Kerala High Court judgment which had said that a private car on a public road would still constitute a private space,” Indian newspaper the Print reported at the time.
“The verdict can be interpreted to mean that any activity that is not allowed in a public space, such as smoking, will now not be allowed in a private car on a public road either,” the Print noted, predicting that the ruling would have “far-reaching consequences.”