Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday said that the penalty for not wearing masks at public places in Delhi will be increased from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 in the light of the severe spike in Covid-19 cases in the capital.
“I met the L-G today and briefed him about the Covid-19 situation. We have observed that most people wear masks, but several do not adhere to the rule. It has been decided that the penalty for not wearing masks will be increased from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000. We have agreed that it should create an effective deterrent. I appeal to social, religious and political organisations to distribute masks and urge people to wear masks. Masks are a major saviour against Covid-19,” said Kejriwal in a video press briefing.
The Lieutenant governor’s office has approved the proposal. A government official said that a notification will be issued soon.
Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Anil Baijal’s office said in a statement: “It was considered necessary to enhance the fine for not wearing face masks, from the existing Rs 500 to Rs 2000 with a view to penalise the violators in an exemplary way . The decision was taken as an extraordinary measure in the face of a sudden surge in the Covid-19 cases in Delhi during the last fortnight despite best efforts being put in by various field agencies on all fronts.”
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Delhi, on Thursday, recorded 7,546 new Covid-19 cases and 98 more deaths, taking the toll to 8,041. With 62,437 tests conducted on Thursday, the positivity rate was recorded at 12.09%%, according to the government’s daily health bulletin.
The police and the government’s revenue department are the two enforcement agencies which prosecute individuals for not wearing masks in public places.
“We are awaiting the written order. As soon as we receive it, we will start issuing challans for R2,000 rather than R500,” said a senior Delhi Police officer, who did not want to be identified.
So far, the police have penalised 498,984 individuals for not wearing marks and the revenue department has penalised 249,021 people, showed records maintained by the agencies.
Other than not wearing masks, agencies can also impose a penalty of Rs 500 for spitting in public spaces and violation of social distance norms. The fine for the offences other than not wearing masks are not likely to be increased as of now, said a senior government official.
Experts agreed on the importance of masks but offered mixed reaction to the decision on increasing penalty amount.
Charoo Hans, former head of microbiology department in Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, said: “There is currently no definite treatment approved for coronavirus infection and vaccines are still under study. Face masks — along with other preventive measures — when worn correctly and by a large percentage of the public can slow the transmission of the disease which is often due to droplets spread by patients who may even be asymptomatic. Hence, action for compliance of mask use is judicious for controlling the high infection rates”.
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Dr Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases department in Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said the enhanced penalty will not be easy to enforce. “Masks are important in the fight against Covid-19 but such enforcements are easier said than done. For a large number of people, Rs 500 is a high amount too, but people are still violating the rule. The government should now focus on prevention from infections. They should rather create conditions which reduce human interactions in the first place — such as staggered market timings and limiting passengers in public transport.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, however, criticised the government’s decision.
BJP MLA and leader of the opposition in the Delhi assembly Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said: “It is a wrong move. A poor person will not be able to afford Rs 2,000 and several of them are yet to understand the importance of masks in the fight against Covid-19.”
Delhi Congress chief Chaudhary Anil Kumar said: “The government should rather focus on awareness, ensuring social distance and free distribution of masks instead of focusing on making people pay in the garb of controlling a health emergency.”
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