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17 September, 2017 00:00 00 AM

A dirty first?

India's first ever No-Fly list bans unruly passengers from domestic air travel from three months to two years or beyond
Kumkum Chadha
A dirty first?
Shiv Sena MP from Maharashta, Ravindra Gaikwad (L)

It was in March this year that an MP from Shiv Sena hit an Air India employee with a slipper. He was agitated  over a seating issue. Worse still instead of expressing regret the  MP, Ravindra Gaikwad, admitted to the assault in clear terms: “Maine sandal se pachhees maara (I hit him 25 times with a sandal),’’ Gaikwad had then said.
The flight, AI 852, landed at the Delhi airport at 9:35 am and was supposed to take off for Goa at 10:55 am. Gaikwad, however refused to disembark from the aircraft. Pleas by the staff  irked him and he hit one of them  with a slipper and tried to throw him out of the aircraft.  He assaulted other employees who went to help.
 Gaikwad was travelling to Delhi from Pune and was to catch a morning flight. He had a business class ticket but he says he was asked  to travel by economy class. Air India claims that Gaekwad was informed that the flight didn’t have business class seats at all.
Once the flight landed at Delhi, the MP created a ruckus inside the plane and refused to alight. Repeated requests from the cabin crew yielded no results till a staffer Sukumar, 60, intervened. Gaekwad said Sukumar insulted him. What followed was unprecedented.  Gaekwad held Sukumar by the collar and thrashed him with his slippers. Later Gaekwad stated on record that he had hit the staffer. Meanwhile the  Air India staffer in a written complaint alleged:
 “R Gaikwad hit me, used bad words and not only broke my specs but humiliated me in front of the whole crew. God save our country if this is the culture and behavior of our MPs.”
Gaikwad in turn said that the staffer had behaved rudely with him. “Haan maine usko maara tha, usne badtameezi ki thi (Yes, I hit him. He misbehaved with me).”

57-year-old Gaekwad is a first-time MP and two time former MLA and is elected to the Lok Sabha from Osmanabad in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region. He has a string of cases against him, including charges such as criminal intimidation, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, using violence to deter public servants from discharging duty etc.

A little less than three months down the line  an MP from the Telugu Desam Party, Diwakar Reddy  created a ruckus and pushed an airline staffer after he was denied boarding by IndiGo for being late.

Reddy was scheduled to fly on an IndiGo flight from Visakhapatnam at 8.10 am, to Hyderabad.
But he reached just 28 minutes before the scheduled departure, according to the airline.
As per norms laid out by the aviation regulator, airlines close check-in counters for all domestic fights 45 minutes prior to departure.
Reddy got into a verbal spat with the ground staff and threw a printer kept at the airline’s counter after he was informed that boarding for his flight had closed.
This is not Reddy’s first: he had last year allegedly vandalised the Air India office at Gannavaram airport in Vijaywada last year after he missed his flight.
 Both Gaekwad and Reddy were banned by the respective airlines and half a dozen others from flying on them. In fact Gaekwd had to, for sometime, take a train to reach Delhi for the Parliament session after airlines refused to let him fly with them.

The Government was quick to act and in the draft rules that it released proposed a ban on flying from three months up to an indefinite period for unruly passengers.
Union Civil Aviation Minister has now released India's first ever No-Fly list that bans unruly passengers from domestic air travel from three months to two years or beyond depending on the level of offense.

These new rules will be applicable to anyone on board an aircraft and will include VIPs as well as the crew. Under the DGCA's ambit of safety provisions, the rules will attract relevant penal provisions for any unruly behaviour and a "no fly" offence rules will run concurrent to any criminal proceedings initiated as per the law. They will be applicable to foreign carriers too subject to compliance with the Tokyo Convention of 1963.

The Convention allows a contracting country to impose its criminal jurisdiction on an aircraft in flight if there is a breach of flight related rules, in case the offence has been committed by or against a national of that country and if it harms its security.

The list cites three levels of disruptive behaviour. The first is for "unruly physical gestures, verbal harassment and unruly inebriation" which can lead to a ban of up to three months; the second is for "physically abusive behaviour  namely pushing, kicking, hitting and inappropriate touching" with a ban of up to six months; and the last  for "life-threatening behaviour, including assaults, damage to aircraft systems" that can lead to a ban from two years to a lifetime. The ban will be doubled for repeat offences.

The list will have two components: unruly passengers banned by airlines and people named by the home ministry as perceived national security risks. There will be checks and balances to ensure that airlines do not have a free run and falsely label anyone — like a flyer making a genuine complaint — an unruly passenger and then ground him or her.
The government is also contemplating framing rules for providing a unique ID card number with PNR to book tickets to ensure that a person on the no-fly list cannot fly by fudging details.

As per new regulation, complaints  of unruly behaviour would need to be filed by the pilot-in-command and these will be probed by an internal committee to be set up by the airline.. What is significant is that the internal committee will have a retired  judge as its chairman and will have to decide the matter within 30 days.
When minister incharge Jayant Sinha said that no  other country in the world has a no-fly list based on safety, he hit the nail on the head. He ofcourse meant it as India’s first but missed the point about it being a dirty first, as it were.
What the young minister overlooked was the fact that the list has more to do with misbehavior of legislators and their highhandedness simply because they are MPs. In fact Gaekwad’s grouse was the fact that the Air India staffer did not give him the importance of an MP.
 Sinha forgot that India has a VIP syndrome that needs to be done away with. Surprisingly, the rules do mention VIPs as an entity and thus legitimizes the breed.
This defeats the entire effort of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his men branding a  new India because  the VIP syndrome is larger than life here. The move to do away with beacon lights on VIP cars was indeed welcome but it is like a drop in the ocean.

Elected representatives, who are habitual offenders, must understand that they are there to “serve” rather than rule and their status is not bigger than the people who have elected them. Therefore even while being among the select few they are not a cut above the rest. They have no  right to lord over others, specially those doing their job. Representatives and politicians  must fall in line rather than jump queues, disregarding all norms of civil behavior.
For starters all visible signs of VIP syndrome, places reserved for them be it in airport lounges or functions must be dismantled. This would not only reduce the distance between VIPs and the common man but also enforce discipline and correct errant behavior.

The culture of legislators queuing up and awaiting their turn like commoners is unthinkable in India and the sooner that is inculcated the better it would be for the new India Modi is dreaming out.
A beginning must be made from among his own men and they should shun the practice of driving through all barriers right upto the tarmac. They would win kudos if they queued up like commoners and went through the drill that a common man is subjected to.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected])


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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