New Delhi: A day after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi increased the fine for not wearing masks to Rs 2,000, the number of challans came down Friday while residents had a mixed reaction to this four-fold increase in penalty.
Civil defence volunteers, teams deployed by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the Delhi Police and District Magistrate officials ThePrint spoke to said the number of challans issued on 20 November were fewer when compare to the previous days. On an average, around 10 people were being fined, they said.
However, authorities were still collecting the previously set amount of Rs 500 as fine since the official notification on the increase was yet to arrive.
ThePrint visited Connaught Place and Central Market in Lajpat Nagar — two of the most crowded places in the national capital — to understand if a higher penalty will be a deterrent enough for people to mask up and to also find out what inspection teams had to say.
A member of an NDMC inspection team deployed near the Palika Bazar in Connaught Place said the increased fine amount prompted more people to wear their masks in public. As many as 10 inspection teams of the sub-divisional magistrate office and five from the NDMC were present around the Connaught Place area Friday, according to this member.
“We might receive the notice on increased fine amount anytime, and we will start collecting Rs 2,000 (then),” the team member told ThePrint.
For those flouting rules and unable to pay the fine, the teams called PCR vans and registered an FIR under PC Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code.
Some say ‘open loot’, others welcome move
While many residents welcomed the government’s move, others were unhappy.
Preetpal Singh, a businessman who was in Connaught Place to meet his clients, was critical of the decision. “This is an open loot by the Delhi government and NDMC. Ask a poor man how hard it is to earn Rs 2,000 in a day. The fine of Rs 500 was still okay, but this is too much,” he told ThePrint.
Ajay Sharma, who was in Connaught Place for some work, echoed similar sentiments. “Even if a person momentarily removes the mask below the nose to breathe, they are being fined. How is it fair?”
But for Vinod Kumar, a 56-year-old who owns a small paan shop in the busy central Delhi area, the hiked penalty meant many of his customers were now wearing masks. “I think it is a good move. I observed very few people not wearing a mask Friday. It is indeed due to the increased fine amount and awareness of the challan teams,” he said.
Another member of an NDMC team in Connaught Place said, “If the fine is done away with, most of the people will stop wearing masks altogether.” This reporter saw the NDMC team pull up a man who pulled his down mask to speak on the phone.
“Even if he was standing in a secluded corner, he is in a public place. Anyone can pass by him and possibly contract the virus if he is infected and not wearing the mask properly,” the team member quoted above said.
Of the two teams ThePrint spoke to, one hadn’t fined anyone yet while the other had fined two people as of 4pm.
‘Teams randomly fining people’
In Lajpat Nagar’s Central Market, people were seen flouting social distancing norms but with their masks on. A civil defence team volunteer deployed at the market said the number of challans reduced significantly since Thursday.
“We only fined three people since morning. Though we are still not taking Rs 2,000 as fine amount, people are coming to us and inquiring about the hiked fine amount,” the volunteer said around 5pm.
Around 10 civil defence volunteer teams come to the market every day between 9 am and 9 pm.
The shopkeepers in Central Market, however, feel the increased amount will mostly affect the poor. Sanjay Kumar, a garment seller, told ThePrint that inspection teams were fining people even when they pulled down their masks momentarily.
“The rich will come in their cars, shop and go. They won’t come into the eye of these teams. But we work amid dust and pollution as our shops are located outside. If I have to pull the mask for a minute to breathe, they’ll come and fine me. I don’t even earn Rs 2,000 per day, how will I pay?” Kumar asked.
A civil defence team at Lajpat Nagar, however, refuted these claims. “We don’t randomly fine people. If someone is eating or drinking water at a public place, we just ask that person to go and stand at a relatively secluded corner,” said a member.
The team also complained about lack of cooperation from people. While most of the inspection teams have a women member, the ones at Lajpat Nagar only has male members. “If we want to fine a woman for not wearing a mask, it becomes difficult without a female team member,” said the member quoted above.
Delhi currently has 8,041 active cases of coronavirus. As many as 7,546 new cases and 98 deaths were reported Thursday, taking the total positive cases to 5,10,630. The Arvind Kejriwal government also chaired an all-party meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the Covid-19 situation in the national capital.