Tamil Nadu

PIL plea against fine for flouting safety norms

A public interest litigation petition has been filed in the Madras High Court, challenging a government gazette notification issued on September 4 for the collection of fines ranging from ₹200 to ₹5,000 for violation of quarantine measures, failure to wear masks, spitting in public places, non-adherence to distancing norms and failure to follow standard operating procedures in salons, spas and gymnasiums to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The case is expected to be listed before a Division Bench of Justices V. Parthiban and G.R. Swaminathan on Thursday. According to the petitioner R. Muthukrishnan, 77, of Ramapuram here, the Tamil Nadu Public Health Act, 1939, a colonial law, as it stood originally, did not authorise government officials to insist upon wearing of masks in public places, following physical distance norms and adhering to standard operating procedures.

It was only after the outbreak of the pandemic the government promulgated an ordinance on September 4 and amended Section 76(2) of the Act. The amendment empowered the Collectors, health officers and police officials to enforce wearing of masks, maintenance of physical distance and adherence to standard operating procedures. On the same day, the gazette notification was also issued listing the fine amount that could be imposed for violation of these requirements.

The notification stated that those who do not wear masks in public places would be fined ₹200 and those who do not follow quarantine measures, spit in public places and violate physical distance norms would be fined ₹500. Violation of standard operating procedures in salons, spas, gymnasiums and such other places would attract a fine of ₹5,000. For non-adherence to containment zone guidelines, individuals would have to cough up ₹500 and commercial establishments should pay ₹5,000.

Legal grounds

Attacking the gazette notification on legal grounds, the petitioner said Section 76(2) of the Act only empowers government officials to issue standard operating procedures and ensure wearing of masks and maintenance of physical distancing norms to control the spread of notified diseases. Nowhere does it declare non- adherence by individuals an offence. Yet, the notification had considered the tasks listed under the Section as offences and declared them compoundable.

He also claimed that the notification, which was in the nature of a subordinate legislation, had been issued by the Health Secretary and not by the Governor, though it claims the latter had exercised his rule-making power under Section 138A of the Act and permitted the executive authorities to compound the offences. “The notification is in the nature of an executive order,” the petitioner said, urging the court to quash it.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 11:46:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/pil-plea-against-fine-for-flouting-safety-norms/article32896605.ece

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