NEW DELHI :
Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri and the aviation regulator on Wednesday defended the travel ban imposed on stand-up comic Kunal Kamra by four airlines before the institution of internal enquiries, but legal experts questioned the length of the ban and charged the airlines with failing to follow due process.
IndiGo on Tuesday banned Kamra for six months for heckling news anchor Arnab Goswami. Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir banned him “until further notice" after a tweet by Puri urging other airlines to follow suit.
Puri said offensive behaviour on an aircraft was unacceptable and that authorities were “left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned". Puri told Mint on Wednesday that it was up to the airline to take steps to deal with unruly passengers.
“There are flight safety issues here. A scuffle could have broken out there. What was done (by Kamra) was in clear violation of air safety rules. Even inside a restaurant there are rules of admission. The act was designed to provoke. Subjecting anyone (in an aircraft that is in the air) to this type of offensive behaviour is unacceptable," said Puri.
“Misbehaviour inside the aircraft will not be tolerated. This will be the norm because this involves the central issue of air safety."
Director general of civil aviation Arun Kumar said in a statement that the action taken by the airlines was in “complete consonance" with the rules on handling unruly passengers.
The ruling of IndiGo’s internal committee on such matters, to be given in 30 days, will be binding on the airline, Kumar said. “Punishment for different types of unruly behaviour is also prescribed in the same civil aviation requirements (CAR) and the internal committee has to adhere to the same," he added.
According to the rulebook, an airline is within its rights to impose a temporary ban during the period of the deliberations—capped at 30 days—by an internal panel led by a retired district and sessions judge. But IndiGo’s six-month ban extended well beyond this limit, something lawyers said was not in order.
An email sent to IndiGo remained unanswered.
According to Sameer Jain, founder and managing partner of PSL Advocates and Solicitors, the travel bans by IndiGo and others were not justified as it appears from the timeline of events that the due process mandated by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was not followed. “At best he falls under a level 1 threat (verbal assault) as per the DGCA regulations," said Jain, adding that Kamra’s fundamental right to travel was being violated.
DGCA classifies unruly passengers into three classes—those indulging in disruptive behaviour such as verbal harassment that warrants a three-month ban; those resorting to physically abusive behaviour warranting a six-month ban and those guilty of life-threatening behaviour warranting a ban of at least two years. People posing a national security threat are banned as long as the threat exists.
Monika Mehalwat, a former pilot and currently a lawyer, said the ban imposed by IndiGo is in clear violation of CAR. “A temporary ban can be imposed for a maximum period of 30 days. Here the ban imposed by IndiGo is uncalled for and beyond the stipulated protocols. He could have been banned for three months under level 1 for verbal unruly behaviour, but only after the committee held him guilty."
No airline is bound by the decision of other airlines but every airline has the right to decide its own list of passengers barred from its flights. It is in an option for them to ban the same person, who has been held unruly as per CAR provisions of CAR, she added.
According to Ravi Kini, managing partner of MV Kini and Co., Kamra would fall in the first category of unruly behaviour.
*Japnam Bindra and Prathma Sharma contributed to this story.