New Delhi: More than three weeks after Delhi Disaster Management Authority decided to withdraw the fine for not wearing face masks, the state government’s health department is yet to come out with a notification on the matter.
Though Delhi government decided to withdraw the fine from October 1 with retrospective effect, some people have accused Civil Defence volunteers of “extortion” over mask violations.
On September 22, DDMA agreed that though face masks were useful in maintaining Covid-appropriate behaviour, it was felt that there was a need to relax the precautionary measures. It was suggested that self-discipline should be tried now since the public was presumed to be aware of responsibilities about the pandemic.
The minutes of the meeting, chaired by lieutenant governor VK Saxena and attended by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, revenue minister Kailash Gahlot, chief secretary Naresh Kumar, police commissioner Sanjay Arora, Niti Aayog’s Dr VK Paul and National Disaster Management Authority’s Rajendra Singh and Krishna Vatsa, were put in public domain on October 4.
A bureaucrat explained the decisions taken in the meeting have to be notified by the health department and should have been done by now. Amit Singla, secretary of the health and family welfare department, could not be contacted for a comment.
While some district authorities have stopped fining those not wearing masks in public, people have complained about Civil Defence volunteers in some areas threatening to penalise them for mask violation and extorting money. Deepak Channa, a private trading firm executive, said, “Nobody is wearing face masks now but a Civil Defence volunteer in Kashmere Gate area insisted that I pay Rs 500 or go to the police station with him.”
A revenue department official said that the fine for not wearing masks was issued under the Epidemic Act, 1897, which was invoked on April 1 for six months, and so lapsed on September 30 without being extended. “With the Epidemic Act not in force, the mask mandate is automatically over. Those who want to wear the mask from personal choice are free to do so, but not wearing it will not attract a penalty,” the official clarified.
The official, however, agreed that a notification should have been issued to ensure the public was aware of the decision.
Though the DDMA members had unanimously decided to remove the mask mandate, some members felt that mask use should continue at least during the festival season. While chief secretary Kumar was of the view that the current situation was comfortable but the guard couldn’t be lowered as new variants kept cropping up, NDMA’s Rajendra Singh suggested that wearing of masks could be continued up to November 15 in view of the festival season.