Even as SpiceJet and GoAir Wednesday joined IndiGo and Air India to ban Kunal Kamra from their flights, government officials told The Indian Express that IndiGo’s move to ban the Mumbai-based stand-up comedian for six months was not in line with laid-down regulations which stipulate that pending a decision by an internal committee of the airline concerned, it “may ban such (an) unruly passenger from flying, but such period may not exceed a period of 30 days”.
The Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in 2017 to tackle unruly passengers on flights says that whenever an airline receives a complaint of unruly behaviour from the pilot-in-command, the incident may be referred by the airlines to an internal committee which shall decide the matter within 30 days. “Pending decision of the internal committee, the concerned airline may ban such unruly passenger from flying, but such period may not exceed a period of 30 days,” reads Para 6.3 of the CAR in question.
Kamra was banned from flying by IndiGo, India’s largest airline, for six months after he was accused of heckling television news anchor Arnab Goswami on the airline’s flight from Mumbai to Lucknow. A query sent to IndiGo asking the rationale behind banning the Kamra for six months did not elicit a response.
I did this for my hero…
I did it for Rohit pic.twitter.com/aMSdiTanHo
In a statement, DGCA Chief Arun Kumar said: “The action taken by the airlines is in complete consonance with Civil Aviation Requirements…on handling of unruly passengers. Now the matter is to be referred to the internal committee as prescribed in para 6.1 of the said CAR. Further, as per para 6.4 of the CAR, the internal committee is to give the final decision in 30 days by giving the reasons in writing, which shall be binding on the airline concerned. Punishment for different type of unruly behavior is also prescribed in the same CAR and the internal committee has to adhere to the same”.
The rules define three categories of unruly behaviour: Level 1, verbally unruly, and calls for debarment upto three months; Level 2 indicates physical unruliness and can lead to the passenger being debarred from flying for upto six months; Level 3 indicates life-threatening behaviour where the debarment would be for a minimum of two years. However, the onus of deciding the duration for which the unruly passenger will be banned lies with the committee.
“Any ban announced by the airline prior to the internal committee’s decision is valid only until the decision is made,” an official said, adding that in Kamra’s case, the duration of the ban decided by the committee could be shorter or longer than the airline’s six-month ban. “Prima facie, the airline may have considered it to be a Level 2 offence,” the official added. The rules also state that in case the internal committee fails to take a decision in 30 days, the passenger will be free to fly.
IndiGo announced its decision on Tuesday tagging Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri who then took to Twitter and said there was “no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned”. An e-mail query seeking a comment from Puri and a civil aviation ministry spokesperson did not elicit a response.
Shortly after the minister’s tweet, flag-carrier Air India also banned Kamra indefinitely. However, in contrast with IndiGo’s statement that clearly gives a time period for the ban, every other airline that has suspended Kamra from flying has done so for an indefinite period.
The CAR gives other airlines the option to ban the person from taking flights to/from/within India. Notably, both Tata Group-owned airlines Vistara and AirAsia India have not banned Kamra from flying. In a statement on Tuesday, a Vistara spokesperson said: “Vistara stands firm with its zero-tolerance policy against any behaviour or act that compromises the safety, security and dignity of its customers and staff. We will review and follow due process in such cases”.
In a similarly worded statement, an AirAsia India spokesperson said: “Our internal committee is reviewing this case and a decision will be taken soon. We will take action as per due processes”. Additionally, since the CAR is applicable only on Indian scheduled and non-scheduled operators, Kamra is free to take flights on foreign airlines.
When contacted, an Air India spokesperson said that the decision to ban was taken “till further notice pending examination of the case by the duly constituted three-member committee under the DGCA rule.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday came out in support of Kamra and said on Twitter: “The ban imposed on #kunalkamra by 4 airlines is the act of a coward leveraging his influence with the Govt to silence a critic. Those who use their ‘news’ cameras as 24×7 tools of propaganda, should show some spine when the camera is turned on them”.
When contacted, Kamra said, “I don’t want to further comment on this issue.” On Twitter, he said: “At no point was I disruptive and at no point did I not follow the orders of the cabin crew or the captain. At no point did I endanger the safety of any passenger on board.”
According to rules, the pilot files a complaint and an internal committee, comprising a retired District or Sessions court judge, a representative from consumer dispute redressal forum, passenger association, and an airline representative, has to submit their direction within a month.
Mumbai-based jeweller Birju Kishore who created a hijack scare on Mumbai-Delhi Jet Airways flight was the first Indian to be put on the no-fly list in 2018.
With Tabassum Barnagarwala
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