A police personnel fines an individual for violating traffic rules and not wearing a mask. | Photo: ANI
A police personnel stops an individual not wearing a mask while driving. | Photo: ANI
Text Size:

New Delhi: People across the country have been landing in trouble over the last few months for not wearing a mask inside cars, with Rs 500 being imposed as fines on violators.

On Thursday, the Union health ministry clarified that there is no directive from the ministry on wearing a mask when a person is in a car alone. But the traffic police can still impose a fine if the car has more than one person.

Amid the Covid-19 crisis, several states have issued guidelines mandating wearing a mask in a “public place”. But is a private car a “public place”? A 2019 Supreme Court ruling holds the answer.

What is the law?

The peculiar and sudden nature of the Covid onslaught has ensured that the legalities on controlling movement and behaviour of people during the pandemic are regulated through executive orders like circulars and other guidelines.

These guidelines are issued utilising the powers under the Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897.

For instance, the Delhi Epidemic Diseases (Management of Covid-19) Regulations 2020, have been issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act.

These regulations allow authorities to impose a fine of Rs 500 for the first time and Rs 1,000 for a repeated violation of the guidelines, which mandate “wearing of face mask/cover in all public places/workplaces”.

They also say if someone fails to pay the penalty on the spot, action against them can be taken by the authorised public officer under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 188 makes it an offence to disobey an order duly promulgated by a public servant. It provides for imprisonment of up to six months or a fine that could extend up to Rs 1,000.

Another order issued in April by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) had also said “all persons moving… in public places… must wear a 3-ply mask or cloth mask compulsorily”. A pointer in this order said “any person moving around in his personal and official vehicle must be wearing these masks compulsorily”.

Also read: Finish installing smog towers in Delhi in 10 months or face contempt, SC tells Centre

Police relying on guidelines, DDMA orders

Delhi Traffic Police DCP Eish Singhal relied on the Delhi Epidemic Diseases (Management of Covid-19) Regulations 2020 to say that this was the basis for the police issuing challans to people not wearing masks in their cars.

Another senior police officer, who didn’t wish to be named, said the police have been following the directives of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, which requires everybody in a “public space” to wear a mask or a cover.

As for stopping lone drivers, he said, “In most cases, the policemen now do not stop people without a mask who are travelling alone in a car. Most times they also give a warning. But some officers do stop people and that is because the guidelines say so.”

Asked if the clarification from the health ministry will change the police’s approach, the officer said this has to come from the DDMA in writing for it to be conveyed to the policemen on ground.

Private car on a public road, a ‘public place’

The basis for equating a private car with a ‘public place’ lies in a 2019 verdict, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a private car on a public road can be deemed a ‘public place’.

The case before the Supreme Court involved an interpretation of the Bihar Excise Act 1915. Through an amendment in 2016, a provision was included in the Act penalising “consumption of liquor in public places”.

The petitioners before the court were travelling to Bihar from Jharkhand in 2016 when their car was checked by the police at the border in Bihar’s Nawada district. While no liquor was found in the car, the petitioners were found to have consumed alcohol.

They had approached the Supreme Court demanding that the charges against them under the Act be quashed. Among other things, they had submitted that their private car cannot be said to be a public place.

The Act defines a “public place” as “any place to which public have access, whether as a matter of right or not and includes all places visited by general public and also includes any open space”.

Interpreting this definition, the court held that a private vehicle would be included in the definition of a “public place”.

“When a private vehicle is passing through a public road it cannot be accepted that the public have no access. It is true that the public may not have access to private vehicle as matter of right but definitely public have opportunity to approach the private vehicle while it is on the public road,” the court observed.

Also read: Delhi HC allows breath analyser test through tube process for air traffic controllers

Can the police click photos as ‘evidence’?

There have also been instances of the police personnel clicking photographs of those defying the rules and not wearing a mask.

When asked about this, a second senior police officer, requesting anonymity, said there was no rule or official order requiring clicking of pictures.

However, the officer added, “My understanding is some cops do it as people later claim it was mischief on part of police to challan them even though they had their masks on. It is to safeguard themselves and have proof if at all.”

Delhi-based criminal lawyer Ajay Verma said this is akin to traffic camera clicking photos of commuters for traffic violations.

“The authorities usually send traffic challans with an image these days. The same way, the moment they find you violating the law (not wearing a mask in this case), and they stop you, they click a photo,” he said.

“Once the picture is taken, it can be uploaded as a proof of challan, especially in cases where the person is not caught then and there… They are merely using it as proof. If somebody disputes it, then that’s a different case,” he added.

“It’s not a punishable offence if you click a picture of a person. It does not come under the purview of voyeurism unless maybe it includes someone being exposed, as per the definition under the criminal law. So I don’t think clicking somebody’s photo amounts to a criminal offence,” said another criminal lawyer Amish Aggarwala.

“But of course if it is published without the person’s permission, then there could be a remedy under law. They can ask for the photo to be removed and seek damages,” he added.

With inputs from Aneesha Bedi and Ananya Bhardwaj.

Also read: Covid deaths increasing only in Delhi & Karnataka among 5 high-burden states, says govt


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism



  1. This is really shameful on government part i was travelling today with my father he had his mask and mine was half still they stopped us and made challan near gazipur the senior person told us bhai sahab hamara target hai Pura karna hai, I am in petition please count me in contact142000@gmail.com

  2. Well this is so true, this kind of situation is happening in Delhi -NCR as well where-in cops stand in the middle of the road looking for people not wearing a mask they cause traffic jams but are least bothered as they want to find that one person who is without a mask. I have been fined once when I had removed my mask to drink water while returning fro dwarka area. This is really tideous. There is no boost to economy from either the government or for that matter the police. Hooker flout the roads and yet kejriwal administration is proud of maintaining law and order

  3. It is baseless in a private vehicle where people travel in family might used AC or heater in car with windows raised so it might cause suffocation .
    Today we were caught we clearly said them there is no written rules and although I was wearing mask with band lowered till neck .
    I clearly denied that you can’t put fine.

  4. The whole trouble is that the law makers in this country know only the law and nothing else. So when they don’t know the reason for making a law, how can their laws have any meaning or benefits to the public?
    For eg., vehicles today come with air filter, which means that the air is already filtered better than a mask. Then why should a single man wear a mask inside a car?

  5. We had the se prob today . Me and my dad had
    Put of the the mask down for the car was suffocating and it was hot for it was around 1 pm .The policemen came running and fined us . Like literally it was disgusting the way they were talking . My dad did not have any cash so he asked for digital payment their response was negative. Like what is point of digitalization of India .Bunch of illogical people .

  6. Today we face the same problem nr market yard pune approx 7-8 police man women were standing below metro line & we were trying to take U Trun .me & my daughter both were wearing mask my daughter just on UTurn (because of low street light) trying to guide me she just pull him he mask because of fogging on her specticals , policeman stop the car & started arguing & blaming her, she tried to explained the situation but they all become rude,when she ask to fine us digitally they said they don’t have machine.
    One of the Senior understood the situation & ask us to go.But now others have the ego issue that how some one can ask their name.
    One of them started talking to us in rude & in police tone.
    I was trying to finish the matter by paying because they started arguing & pressurised my daughter that how can she argue with them even for a second if she pulled down half the mask.
    but when i came to know that they don’t even had digitally challan then i got little bit adamant but finally one of them made the ego issues .we paid 500/-
    but i think the intention plays an important role in implementation disaster act should apply to all not only to common people who can’t justify or dont want to be into these type of stupidity.

  7. Private car with glasses up and all family members who reside together cannot be fined logically but Bangalore police are behind collecting money without being able to convince public
    It was so useless debate for a moment and ended paying fine
    We all had mask but wanted lift up when we reduce window glass
    Wearing mask inside car where glass up will suffocate and kill a human easily this simple reason is not understood by Banglore police or Govt

    • Today my daughter was driving our own car with glasses up and AC on. We were all family members who reside together, and should not have been fined logically for not wearing masks. Bangalore police / Marshalls are behind collecting money for BBMP without any logic and are unable to convince us public.
      It was very useless to debate with them and we ended paying the fine.
      We all had masks but would have used them only if we had lowered the glasses.
      Wearing mask inside the car where glasses are up can suffocate and kill a human easily, this simple reason is not understood by Banglore police or Govt. Being law-abiding citizens this rule appears to be a harassment of public, when we pay our taxes honestly. Exception should be given for private vehicles with family members.


    • Same issue yesterday 25/12/20 with us, we were going to temple , my husband wearing mask and i was also upto neck, but my daughter sitting behind was her mask in hand due to suffocating, suddenly Bangalore police agents on road wearing army dress stopped car and started badly behaving with us and fined Rs.250 illogical. We have requested them we are following the compliance and protocol of wearing mask and kept sanitizer in car and using them when in public place ethically, but police agent were so rude and didn’t listen. This is purely nonsense and disgusting. Govt is focussing to make money and disturbing people on road with gundagardi. Very sad.

      • ഇത് ഇൻഡ്യയാണ്. ഇവിടെ പോലീസിന് എന്ത് തെമ്മാടിത്തരവും കാണിക്കാം

  8. I am facing the same problems while travelling from one state to another state for business tours. Traffic police is there and unnecessary checks papers and put their demands.it is only for their earning. They always threaten and use rubbish language.

  9. PM doesn’t want to expose the details of Corona funds. That says everything what country we are staying. These police etc screwing people is not big thing. It has to set from top to bottom.

  10. In a private car, eating a chocolate is also a crime they say. I would like to ask the authorities how am I suppose to intake food while wearing mask. I legitimately took it off only for few secs and a bunch of police officers came up rushing, asking for challan. The lady officer clearly mentioned, “ kya madam itni chik chik kar rahe ho humari salary yahi hai”. This is hideous. If the present trend continues, the poor will only get poorer.
    We as citizen should sign a petition and stand against such unjust laws.

  11. A family living in a home without wearing mask and then travels in a car without wearing mask with all door and windows closed, I don’t know how they are going to spread COVID, so called judges and policeman are bunch of MORONS.

      • Same situation happened with me was travelling with my wife with all windows up just two of us in car who stay in same house without wearing mask. But authorities are morons they just want to harash common people, police ask for 500 Ka chutta hai kya, no digital payment which clearly indicates that where the money may be going.
        There attitude and language towards common people is worst. What is the use of having such useless police department around you which makes you feel scared instead of being safe.
        Honourable Court should make some clear guidelines so that all this can be stooped.
        If not then we as common people should file common petition so that clear guidelines can be drawn. Rules keeps changing from village to village city to city and so on.

  12. I dont know what is wrong with these so called policemen..I mean if delhi police was that strict and abides by the law even a single crime would have been vanished off.
    We were in our private car goimg to a funeral ,my dad who was driving was wearing the mask. And my mom had put it down cause se had to drink water.
    Now 4 5 policemen stops the car from no where and without even listening the reason starts demanding 3000 rupees and started making video
    I mean what the hell these people are doing
    All they want is to make easy money..I mean sir if you are that honest with your profession just go deep into the markets and find the real law breakers..dont just stand on the road and make money from innocent families .

  13. Police and their personal also needs extra money and they are working as the goons of the government and transport department. Instead of working on the way they work police personal and how to improve the police personal the government is giving them more teeth to earn for themselves and their kids and their bosses. We had seen on the national highway the RTO traffic and other department are there for cutting the pockets of people. And if you go from one state to another state the traffic police is there for earning for their kids. This is shining India. Eat and let other eat.

    • I totally agree with you. My mom was in a car and she had taken off her mask for 2 minutes and 4 policemen cornered the car and demanded in the most don/goonda-like fashion cutting chalan and threatening that the case will go to court. The central government is absolutely disgraceful and should be ashamed of themselves, why do we go out to vote when no political party is interested in listening to our voices? If there are more people facing this problem, let’s form a group and start a petition perhaps? This way, atleast we can raise awareness on the issue of policemen in India either through social media, etc. and get these rules reconsidered?

      • I had the same harrassment while in car with my wife. My wife had lowered her mask for a while. Car glasses were shut. And only two of us (me and my husband) were there inside our private car. Still we were forced to pay our hard earned money. They fined us rs 1000/-. Totally irrational laws. As per law Husband and wife can infect each other in car if they don’t wear mask. What about infecting each other when they are togather in bedroom??? With these irrational law makers build separate houses for All indian citizens? This is why so many intellectuals leave their own nation India. Corrupt and mindless Government is answer to all disorders in our country.

  14. Earth is round is discovered very late in history, before it was considered flat. I hope some one not fine me while looking at 500 year old book which says it’s flat.

    Move on and change laws with times.

    We in India is running far behind rest of the world because of these outdated rules and laws. Entire system needs overhaul.

Comments are closed.