An unrelenting fight by Jeeja Ghosh, a teacher with cerebral palsy who was deplaned by a SpiceJet pilot in February 2012 due to her disability, has finally shaken the government out of its stupor.
Responding to her PIL in the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has admitted that its policy on providing equitable and comfortable treatment to persons with disabilities for air travel was deficient and needed an overhaul. The ministry said it will come up with a new set of guidelines for the airport managers and airlines to make certain that persons with disabilities did not face discrimination and have comfortable air travel.
A committee that was set up by the ministry to examine the efficacy of the present system regarding air travel by differently-abled people concluded that the DGCA’s ‘Civil Aviation Requirements’ (CAR) was “inadequate” on several counts and required major improvement.
The study was initiated after an uproar over the incident of forcing Ghosh off the airplane at Kolkata despite issuing her a boarding pass. The committee emphasised the CAR was “inefficient” in fastening the responsibilities among the stakeholders, which included the airlines, and also lacked in implementation of the guidelines to ward off discrimination against the disabled.
“The committee considered it necessary to amend the CAR to ensure that persons with disabilities can have access to and enjoy air travel on an equal basis with others and without discrimination, with dignity and in safe and comfort,” stated the government’s affidavit.
Apprising the court that the committee was now studying worldwide best practices and the UN guidelines to enable DGCA come up with a new set of rules, the ministry said it will also revisit issues relating to accessible airport infrastructure, quick redressal of grievances, and issuing necessary guidelines.
On this particular incident, the ministry told the court that the SpiceJet has informed it that the pilot concerned was counselled to show more empathy to deal with such situations and the airline was further issuing strict instructions for implementation of guidelines to handle people with disabilities and reduced mobility.
However, the ministry left it for the court to scrutinise SpiceJet’s response that Ghosh was deplaned in the larger interest of the flight safety and also the averment that she could not have responded to safety instructions and was hence a threat to her own life besides to co-passengers.
SpiceJet, in its response, had sought dismissal of Ghosh’s petition, accusing her of concealing her health condition and thereby jeopardising her own safety and safety of others on the flight. It defended the action of its pilot and maintained that Ghosh was unfit to fly without any escort. The airline also claimed that Ghosh’s condition had deteriorated and blood and froth was oozing out of her mouth.
However, a day after the incident, the letter sent by the SpiceJet Regional Manager had apologised and promised action.