The battle against Covid-19 in Karnataka has been muddled in confusion right from the start and the latest order on compulsory wearing of masks in public places only exemplifies this. It has been made mandatory for even a single occupant of a car, driving with the windows rolled up, to wear, and every Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) marshal has been given a target to penalise at least 20 violators a day per Assembly constituency.
In a typical case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, while senior IAS officer Munish Moudgil, the special officer for Bengaluru (South) who has issued the order, has gone on record that he would personally like to fix the target at 100 people a day, BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad is of the view that the way forward is to educate people while fines should be imposed only as a last resort.
Given the undue pressure on them to meet targets, the marshals are forced to go to ridiculous lengths, like penalising people who momentarily remove their masks to consume water or answer their phones.
Bureaucrats who turn the other way while social distancing norms are thrown to the wind at by-election rallies in the state or when thousands congregate at different markets on the eve of festivals, seem to be deriving some vicarious pleasure by harassing the common man. Instead of deploying marshals in large numbers at street corners, their services could be used for more important roles like contact tracing or ensuring that those in-home quarantine remain so, tasks that the authorities have failed in, after the initial enthusiasm to implement them.
Exploiting the pandemic to augment the revenue of the government at a time when people are already facing hardship due to loss of jobs and income is deplorable. Instead, the government should educate citizens about safety precautions and incentivise them to wear masks, perhaps by providing them with masks free of cost or at concessional rates.
While there may be some rationale behind wearing masks in crowded places or while riding a two-wheeler, the only purpose of making it mandatory for solo drivers seems to be to increase the fine collection. That the administration is expending its energy on such trivial issues ignoring more important concerns gives rise to the sinking feeling that it may have lost the plot in the fight against Covid-19. Chief Minister has stepped in previously when the bureaucracy played truant. He should do so again and save the public from unnecessary harassment.