To avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases as suburban train services unlock for more sections of the society, the state government has delegated powers to the Government Railway Police (GRP) of Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) to impose a fine of Rs 200 on those commuting without a mask.
A letter sent by the Government of Maharashtra to the Commissioner of Police (Railways) on October 28, pointed that, with the gradual opening of the economy, the number of commuters travelling by suburban train services is expected to increase further in the coming months. “One of the main protocols is that of wearing face masks at all times. The Railways is already monitoring the same with all the resources at their disposal. However, to ensure stringent compliance of the rules, it is felt that a strict deterrent needs to be imposed,” read the letter.
In the light of the above, the state hereby bequeaths powers to the GRP to impose fines on commuters found to be travelling without masks in the local trains or inside the station premises. “The fine will be in line with the circular dated September 9 issued by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) or in line with any further circulars issued by the civic body,” it read further.
Ravindra Sengaonkar, commissioner, GRP, said they have received the orders and have directed all their officers to adhere to the same. “We will be imposing Rs 200 as a fine, which was decided by the BMC in September. Moreover, it is a good way to make commuters follow the basic protocols of COVID-19, such as wearing masks,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Railways has decided to provide free masks to passengers to create awareness on the spread of the virus. Awareness drives on the precautions to undertake while commuting will also be organised. “Passengers found travelling without masks onboard trains will be given masks and informed about the spread of the virus,” said a senior CR official.
Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner, BMC, said the state government has taken a good decision of imposing fines on commuters who are not following COVID-19 protocols. “We have learned that many commuters do not wear masks or use it for the namesake. Imposing a fine will help railway authorities to have good control over commuters and make them wear masks and maintain social distance,” he said.
If the present dip in cases continues for another two weeks, it could be possible to open up train services further, though there is fear that doing so could act like a “superspreader event”, worsening the transmission rate.
“The ball is in the people’s court. They can keep the COVID-19 numbers in check or lead to a flare up with reckless behaviour by not wearing masks,” said Dr Shashank Joshi, dean of the Indian College of Physicians and a member of the state task force on COVID-19.