This story has been updated to include the DGCA’s recent clarification, and HuffPost India’s response.
CHANDIGARH—The ban announced by IndiGo and other airlines including Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir on standup comedian Kunal Kamra is a clear violation of the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR Section 3, Series M, Part Vl on “Handling of Unruly Passengers) rules revised in 2017, said Arun Kumar, director general of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Speaking to HuffPost India, Kumar said that as per DGCA rules, in case of any unruly behaviour restricted to verbal confrontation, the airlines should first impose a temporary ban of 30 days on the passenger and conduct an internal enquiry headed by a retired judge into the incident.
“Air India has been wise enough to impose a ban for an indefinite period and is awaiting the outcome of the enquiry report conducted by the airlines. In incidents restricted to verbal confrontation, a ban should not be more than three months,” Kumar said.
When asked about the ban imposed on Kamra by other airlines, Kumar said it depends on the complaint received by crew members travelling on the flight.
“The airline should have waited for the internal enquiry to be completed before putting the passenger on the no-flyers list for six months,” the DGCA chief said.
Kamra was suspended from flying with IndiGo for six months after he confronted Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami about his style of reporting and politics. This was onboard flight 6E 5317 from Mumbai to Lucknow on January 28.
Later, other airlines including SpiceJet, Air India and GoAir also put him on the no-fly list after Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardip Singh Puri tweeted an ‘advisory’ to other airlines to impose similar restrictions on Kamra. While SpiceJet announced a ban of six months, Air India announced an indefinite ban on Kamra.
The action on Kamra has begun a heated debate about the manner in which private airlines have rushed to do the government’s bidding with scant regard for the rules that govern them and the possible repercussions for other citizens.
Kamra has said that he was not shocked by the action, but maintained that he only exercised his right to free speech.
“At no point was I disruptive and at no point did I not follow orders of the cabin crew or the captain. At no point did I endanger the safety of any passenger on board. The only damage I caused was to the inflated ego to the journalist,” said Kamra in a statement issued to the media.
What the rules say
On September 8, 2017, the government unveiled revised rules to tackle on-board disruptive and unruly behaviour by passengers. While addressing the media, the then Union Minister for Civil Aviation P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju had said that the promulgation of the no-fly list in India was unique and first-of-its-kind in the world as it was based on the concern for safety of passengers, crew and the aircraft and not just security threat.
The revision was done in accordance with the provisions of Tokyo Convention 1963 and many penal provisions were added and the revised rules were made applicable for all Indian operators engaged in scheduled and non-scheduled air transport services, both domestic and international carriage of passengers.
However, under stringent rules announced that time, the revised CAR was defined under three categories — Level 1 refers to behaviour that is verbally unruly, and calls for debarment upto 3 months; Level 2 indicates physical unruliness and can lead to the passenger being debarred from flying for upto 6 months and Level 3 indicates life-threatening behaviour where the debarment would be for a minimum of 2 years.
However in Kamra’s case, where only a verbal confrontation took place, the airlines have announced a ban of more than three months.
“As per the rules, the complaint of unruly behaviour by a passenger has to be filed by the pilot-in-command.”
In yet another violation, it is not clear whether IndiGo received a complaint against Kamra or took the step without holding any internal enquiry. HuffPost India has written to IndiGo for a comment and will update the article when the airline replies.
The ban on Kamra by other airlines was also in violation of DGCA rules as no internal enquiry was conducted into the matter.
As per the rules, the complaint of unruly behaviour by a passenger has to be filed by the pilot-in-command. It would then have to be probed by an internal committee set up by the airline. The rules require a district and sessions judge as chairman of this committee, and representatives from different scheduled airlines, passengers’ association/consumer association/retired officer of Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum as members.
As per CAR provisions, the internal committee has to decide the matter within 30 days, and also specify the duration of ban on the “unruly” passenger. During the period of pendency of the inquiry, the concerned airline may impose a ban on said passenger. For every subsequent offence, the ban will be twice the period of a previous ban.
The rules state that the airlines must share the no-fly list with the DGCA and other airlines, and the same will be made available on the DGCA website. Interestingly, other airlines are not bound by the no-fly list of an airline.
Why ban Kamra indefinitely?
While announcing the list of no-fly components, the rules also state that to ban an unruly passenger, an examination by the internal committee is a must. Also, for those perceived to be a national security threat, a communication should be received from the Ministry of Home Affairs. In Kamra’s case, none of the airlines seem to have received any such communication.
Activist and former journalist Saket Gokhale has filed an RTI with Air India, asking for documents related to the arbitrary ban imposed on Kamra without following the due process.
A heated debate is taking place on social media with people making memes and mocking the airlines for banning Kamra.
The DGCA has sought to walk back from its director’s comments to Huffpost India once the story was published. In a statement tweeted from the DGCA’s official handle, the authority claims director Kumar’s statements to HuffPost India were misrepresented.
However, the DGCA’s so-called “clarification” appeared to contradict its own rules. In their clarification, the DGCA has said the actions of airlines are in “complete consonance” with the new no-fly rules. However, these rules clearly specify that the maximum sentence for a verbal confrontation is three months, and that too after an inquiry. IndiGo has announced a 6 month suspension, which appears to violate these rules.