Since the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, thousands of crores have been collected from the offenders of Covid-19 protocols.Violation of the protocol ranges from not wearing a mask in public places, spitting, non-adherence of social distancing, etc. However, amongst these Covid-19 protocols, the rule of mandatory wearing a mask even while being alone in the car has been the most debated one. This is because a person is forced to wear a mask in his private car, which is generally, considered a private space.
The following issue even went to court when a lawyer who was penalized for not wearing a mask while being alone in his car filed a PIL before the Delhi High Court. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court upheld the rule and held that a person’s private car on a public road is a public space in the eyes of law. Thereby, a person should mandatorily wear a mask even while being alone in his car. The following judgement was given by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court while adhering to the ratio of the Hon\’ble Supreme Court’s judgement in the Satvinder Singh case where the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that a person\’s private vehicle on a public road is a public space.
Through this article, we will try to critically analyze the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court adhering to which the Delhi High Court gave the judgement in Sudesh Kumar v. Govt of NCT of Delhi and Ors., vis-à-vis the rule mandating a person to wear a mask on a public road.
Case Name: Satvinder Singh Saluja and Ors. v. State of Bihar.
Citation: (2019) 7 SCC 89.
Bench: J. K M Joseph, J. Ashok Bhushan.
Facts of the case
The appellants were traveling from Giridih, Jharkhand to Patna, Bihar to attend a meeting of Rotary Club on 25.06.2016, in a private vehicle.
The vehicle was stopped by Sup-Inspector Sachidanand at the Rajalui checkpoint in Nawada district of Bihar for a routine check-up.During the check-up, no intoxicants or liquor was found in the appellant\’s vehicle. However, they were asked to take a breath analyser test in which a high quantity of alcohol was found in them.
The appellants were arrested and were booked under section 53(a) of the Bihar excise (amendment) Act 2016. Section 53(a) of the Act prohibits and provides punishment for the consumption of liquor in a public place.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Nawada took cognizance of the matter vide order dated 30.07.2016. The appellants filed application under Section 482 CrPC before the Hon’ble High Court of Patna for setting aside the order passed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate.
The Hon’ble High Court dismissed the application under Section 482.Aggrieved by the order the appellants filed this appeal before the Hon\’ble Supreme Court.
1. Whether a private vehicle can be considered a public place?
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that a private vehicle on a public road would be considered as a public place as the public have an access to the same. The Court held that “When a private vehicle is moving on a public road then it cannot be accepted that public has no access it. The public does not have access to the private vehicle as a matter of right but the public will have the opportunity to approach the private vehicle when it is moving on a public road.”
No fundamental right conferred upon by the Part-III of our constitution is absolute. Similarly, the right to life with personal liberty under Art. 21 is not an exception. Liberty is the right of doing an act, which the law permits. Liberty is a regulated freedom, which is confined and controlled by law and is not abstract or absolute freedom and can be forfeited or abridged by law.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that liberty is not absolute, but must arm itself within the confines of the law. In other words, there can be no liberty without social constraint. The essence of liberty is to keep alive the freedom of the individual, subject to the limitation of social control, which could be adjusted according to the needs of the dynamic social evolution.
Moreover, in the case of G. Sundarajan v. Union of India, the Hon\’ble Supreme Court held that “Individual interest or, smaller public interest must yield to larger public interest and inconvenience of some shall be bypassed for larger interest or cause of society.”Thus, any act which negatively affects the general public is not permissible and can be restricted.
A person in the guise of personal liberty cannot go on to do anything. Especially in a public place, where the public at large is affected by an act of the person. In the present case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court rightly held that a private vehicle on a public road will be considered a public place. As, whenever a car is moving on the public road the actions of the persons in the car do not only affect the individual but also the people surrounding and approaching the car. For example, A person cannot drink in his car while driving on the road by citing personal liberty and private property because of his drunkenness he may hit his car and kill someone else.
The ratio of the following case became highly relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Central and State governments invoking their power under DisasterManagement Act, 2005 and Epidemic Disease Act, 1898 had issued the order for wearing masks in public places and penalties for non-adherence of the same. The authorities had relied on this judgement and mandated the wearing of masks while travelling in private vehicles. The rationale behind the same is that the Covid-19 disease is an airborne disease and while travelling in a car if a person does not wear there is a chance of that person being infected or spreading the disease.Moreover, the rule mandating the wearing of a mask was in adherence to the SOP’s given by the WHO and scientific research.
Thus, it is justified for the authorities to mandate the wearing of masks in private vehicles as it is a public place where the actions of a person not only affect the individual but also the general public. Thus, the Judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and Hon’ble Delhi High Court is correct as it appropriately balances out individual liberty vis-à-vis public interest by declaring a private vehicle on a public road a public place.
Debayan Roy, Supreme Court shocked that Gujarat collected Rs.80-90 crore in fines for COVID-19 violationsBar and Bench – Indian Legal news,
Sofi Ahsan, Explained: Delhi HC ruling on wearing masks in vehicles, even if driving alone – The Indian Express(2021),
Sudesh Kumar vs. Govt. of NCT of Delhi W.P. (C) 9408/2020
Ramlila Maidan Incident v Home Secretary, Union of India 5 SCC 1 (SC).
Kartar Singh v State of Punjab  2 SCR 375 (SC).
Hema Mishra v State of UP &Ors  1 SCR 465 (SC).
Kartar Singh v State of Punjab  2 SCR 375 (SC).
 G Sundarrajan v Union of India(UOI) and Ors  6 SCC 620 (SC).
 Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 Transmission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
 When and how to use masks, World Health Organization,
This article is authored by Aman Kadri and Srishty Bajaj Student at Institute of Law, Nirma University.
Please do comment your views below in the comment section. It would help us to improve our content. Also, let us know if you want us to cover blogs on any other topic.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views or opinions of Legally Flawless or its members.
Keywords: Masks | wearing a mask | Delhi HC ruling on wearing mask | PIL | face cover | face mask | mask mandatory | wearing mask at the time of covid-19 |