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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Spotting spotters

Aircraft are easy things to be fascinated by. The big jet-engine roar,the dozens of diverse airline markings...

Written by The Indian Express |
February 24, 2010 1:28:38 am

Aircraft are easy things to be fascinated by. The big jet-engine roar,the dozens of diverse airline markings,the complex choreographed pehle-aap protocol that accompanies landing at a large airport. Unsurprisingly,therefore,there are people who want to immerse themselves in it,who cross continents to follow their interest,whose detailed discussions on the subject fill dozens of interest forums and lovingly detailed websites. Harmless hobbyists,plane-spotters,like the train-spotters that preceded them.

But not,of course,to the awesome and humourless forces of law enforcement in India. With typical grimness,the Delhi police descended on a five-star hotel last week to lock up Stephen Hampston and Steve Martin,two railwaymen from Britain,who were happily blowing up their savings inside,locked in a room with expensive equipment to observe and — allegedly — record details of air traffic through Indira Gandhi International Airport. Alerted by suspicious waiters to the fact that a couple of guests at the hotel were not leaving their room — except to request roof access to observe landing planes better — the police,unsurprisingly,looked into it. Fine. But it didn’t stop there.

One would think that it would be almost trivially easy to ascertain that plane-spotting is,in fact,a real hobby; and that the two Britons have,in the past,been regular plane-spotters. The security threat that they could pose is clearly minimal. But,simply put,that would require a little give on the part of law enforcement,a little bit of humour. Instead we have threats and bluster. Threats to apply to these hobbyists antiquated provisions of the Telegraph Act,which require one to license a telegraph. Bluster that if that won’t do,there’s always Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code,which allows the arrest of those with the “potential to cause unrest or danger to peace and tranquillity”. And,meanwhile,two harmless men were thrown into jail for something that they had done in many,many other jurisdictions without causing the machinery of the law to grind into motion. Humourlessness of this sort rebounds on us,making our out-of-touch systems look like little more than a bad joke.

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