The Supreme Court today stayed a Gujarat High Court order asking those not wearing masks to do community work in COVID-19 wards. However, it also said that such persons violate others’ fundamental rights and that authorities must make sure pandemic protocols were strictly followed.
The top court agreed with the Gujarat government’s submission that health issues would ensue if the High Court order issued on Wednesday were to be implemented.
“It is submitted that the directions issued by the Gujarat High Court are harsh and disproportionate and if the orders are implemented it may cause health issues. We find substance in these submissions by the Gujarat Government and the Centre. We stay the orders passed by the High Court,” it said.
Ordering the strict implementation of the Centre’s protocols in Gujarat, it directed the state Additional Home Secretary to ensure the guidelines are followed.
“People are violating fundamental rights of others by not wearing masks and ignoring physical distancing norms,” the top court said. “Merely increasing the fine for not wearing mask in public is not enough. Implementation of guidelines is the problem…There is a lapse somewhere,” it said.
The court further expressed concern that if it passed a blanket order staying the High Court directions, even those wearing masks could tomorrow stop wearing them, citing the latest order.
Tushar Metha replied that the problem was national one and court can seek suggestions from all states
The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday ordered the state government to come up with a notification, making it mandatory for those violating the face mask rule to do community service at COVID-19 centres as a punishment, in addition to the fine imposed on them.
It said the service shall be non-medical in nature and for a period of five to 15 days, as authorities deem it fit and necessary.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Gujarat and the Centre, told the Supreme Court that the problem of not wearing mask was a serious issue but the High Court order was not the solution and that the cure it had prescribed was more harmful than the disease itself.