On the face of it there would be little cause to nit-pick over the proposed new regulations to ensure that airline passengers behave themselves ~ except to raise the larger query if every “new” crime merits the passage of a new law or upgraded rules, and possibly the setting-up of a supposedly specialised agency to enforce these. It could well be argued that the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code etc more than suffice to launch prosecution for most of the “offences” cited in the draft proposals now being circulated by the civil aviation ministry: skeptics would insist that a cop could find a law under which to book someone for even crossing the street! Imposing restrictions on flying is certainly a different form of penalty that could be imposed on offenders ~ but does it not dilute the “criminality” of boorish, at times violent, conduct of the passenger? Sure that graded scheme of no-fly restrictions will greatly inconvenience those who misbehave (often after having had “one too many”) but are other means of travel not available to them? And if such misbehavior is taboo on commercial flights, why not something similar for unruly conduct on the railway where conductors, travelling ticket examiners etc are more prone to being abused or assaulted by passengers.

Maybe the safety of a train is not subjected to the same level of risk as an aircraft could be by a rowdy passenger, yet the “gut” feeling is that since air travellers are said to be more “sophisticated” than those who use the trains a different version of the red-beacon culture seems to kick-in. Something that runs counter to the Prime Minister’s desire that folk who wear ‘hawai chappals’ also fly, and surely he had more than Mamata Banerjee in mind.

The real test will be how the airlines, airport authorities etc implement the new rules. The civil aviation ministry takes a skewed sense of pride in declaring that Indian rules will be more stringent than anywhere else, but will it care to explain the action taken, and ineffective penalties imposed in the past, that necessitated new regulations: after all the now-infamous Shiv Sena MP was not the first disgrace of its kind. And even in that case, despite the furore and public outrage it triggered, the action was “temporary” ~ the ban on his flying was relaxed under political pressure, the criminal case filed by the Delhi Police never “moved” beyond paper.

That might also hold true of the new rules proposed in public by the “smooth” minister of state for civil aviation. It is not for nothing that little is being said by the senior minister: he took a stand against the incorrigible MP, but had to back off.