Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has no legal authority to collect a fine of ₹200 from those who do not wear masks inside metro stations and trains, however well intentioned the move may be, the Madras High Court ruled on Thursday.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu set aside a press release issued by CMRL on April 10 informing the public that it would begin imposing a fine on those who do not wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Partly allowing a public interest litigation petition filed by R. Muthukrishnan, who argued the case on his own without engaging a lawyer, the first Division Bench concurred with him that the law does not empower CMRL to impose a fine.
However, when the petitioner claimed that CMRL had already collected over ₹87,000 as on September 30, the judges said it would be entitled to retain the money since it would be impossible to repay it to people who had been fined.
Defending itself before the court, the CMRL had relied upon certain provisions of the Metro Railways (Operation and Maintenance) Act of 2002, to contend that all 13 metro rail administrations across the country invoke those provisions to fine passengers.
However, on perusing those provisions, the judges found that none of them specifically authorise CMRL to penalise passengers. The power to do so could not be inferred by the court unless it had been specifically provided for by law, they said.
“There can be no doubt that the press release was issued in public interest… However, whatever may have been the pious intention, when an action is confiscatory in nature as imposition of fine or penalty, it has to be backed by due sanction of law,” the Bench said.