The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Centre on a plea seeking direction to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and all the airlines to frame mandatory Special Operating Procedures (SoPs) and zero tolerance rules to deal with unruly passengers and to protect other on board sufferers.
The top court has been moved by a 72-year-old woman victim, who was urinated upon in a New York-Delhi Air India flight on November26, 2022 by an allegedly inebriated passenger.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha and Justice JB Pardiwala has posted the matter for further hearing in July, when court reopens after its summer vacation.
The petitioner Hema Rajaraman has sought direction to the DGCA to include in the CAR an explicit zero- tolerance policy with respect to “unruly/disruptive behaviour,” which would mandate reporting such incidents to aviation regulator and also to law enforcement agencies, failing which action would be taken against the airlines in all cases.
It has sought direction to DGCA to consider including in its May 2017 Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) that “drunkenness” or “inebriation” on its own to be termed as unruly/disruptive behaviour on an aircraft.
“The Ministry of Civil Aviation and DGCA to solicit the SoPs and the Operations Manuals as required under law from the airline companies laying down procedures for handling unruly/disruptive behaviour in airports and on aircraft, and to ensure that the same are in compliance with the DGCA norms,” seeks the plea.
Accused in the November 26, 2022 incident Shankar Mishra was arrested from Bengaluru on January 6, 2023, for urinating on the woman in the business class of the flight. He was granted bail later.
The plea said that in fact, the cabin crew “facilitated” in giving her mobile phone number to the man for him to “reimburse the cost of shoes, dry-cleaning, etc”.
She was made to sit on the “very same seat that was wet and smelled of urine,” she has said. It further says that her suffering was compounded when the crew “coerced her to enter into a settlement with the passenger who urinated on her.”
“She continues to deal with the trauma of the incident,” she said.
The plea has also sought direction to the Civil Aviation Ministry and DGCA to “set guidelines on alcohol policy on international flights of Indian carriers to protect passengers and airline staff, including setting limits on the quantity of alcohol served, without any discrimination based on the class of travel.”
“Direct DGCA to amend its Passenger Charter to include the rights and recourse for passengers subject to any sort of abuse by staff passengers, which should include redressal mechanisms for victims via an Ombudsman and also parameters of compensation,” says the plea.
The petition referred to the statistics tabled in the Rajya Sabha on February 6, 2023, which show that only 63 unruly passengers were put in the ‘No Fly’ lists.
There would be numerous other incidents of unruly behaviour where no action was taken, said the plea, adding, “With the world’s third highest air traffic, and with 132 airports, India needs to ensure that its passengers, both domestic and foreign can travel with a minimum of safety and security. Particularly with 150 million senior citizens forming a sizable vulnerable group, positive steps need to be taken to make flying safe.”
The plea has also highlighted how media reports on the incident concerning her were “full of conjectures and surmises”.
She has urged the court to consider how media reports based on conjectures may affect sub-judice cases in the absence of clear guidelines.