Kunal Kamra at his residence in Dadar. (Express Photo by Janak Rathod)
Two big airline companies, AirAsia India and Vistara, with a combined market share of 11.4 per cent, did not act upon stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra for heckling Arnab Goswami on board an IndiGo flight, because such action, even if advised by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, would be in transgression laid down regulations, according to sources with direct knowledge of the developments.
To deviate from the civil aviation requirement as specified by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) would call for written instructions from the government, the sources said. As of now, they said, the two airlines have initiated independent enquiries by referring the Kamra-Goswami episode to their respective internal committees.
Vistara and AirAsia India stood out among half a dozen national airlines and refraining from acting hastily on the Kamra incident while IndiGo, Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir banned him from taking their flights. IndiGo banned him for six months after the episode on board its Mumbai-Lucknow flight on January 28. Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir banned him “until further notice”.
Soon after Kamra posted a video on Twitter, in which he is heard making a monologue in front of Goswami, IndiGo posted a statement on the micro-blogging website banning the comedian from flying for six months. Shortly after that, Civil Aviation Minister Puri wrote on Twitter the government was left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on Kamra. Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir banned Kamra within a day of his ‘advise’.
A senior executive in one of the two airlines, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express: “We cannot consider tweets to be official instructions. We need to follow the DGCA rules, which require such matters to be investigated first by an internal committee. Even if we were to go by what the government is saying, we need to follow the process, and it was not possible in a matter of a few hours.”
An e-mail query sent to the two airlines did not elicit a response. A senior government official, in fact, raised questions over other airlines banning Kamra, pending a decision by IndiGo’s internal committee. “The relevant civil aviation requirement says that for any person, who is placed in the no-fly list, other airlines shall have the option to ban him from taking flights. But a person would end up on the no-fly list only when its internal committee takes a decision,” the official told The Indian Express. Pending such an enquiry, only the concerned airline — IndiGo, in this case — may ban the passenger from flying.
The rules define three categories of unruly behaviour: Level 1 refers to behaviour that is 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.
“The current rules for handling unruly passengers in force since September 2017 were drafted following an incident six months earlier (in March 2017, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament Ravindra Gaikwad physically assaulted an Air India crew member in Pune). But these are draconian in nature,” the official said.
Incidentally, the pilot-in-command of the flight in which the Kamra-Goswami incident took place Tuesday wrote in an email to the company that the airline took action against Kamra without consulting him. IndiGo’s internal committee has already held its first meeting. According to the rules, an airline can refer an incident to its internal committee only after a report has been submitted by the pilot-in-command of the concerned flight.
IndiGo’s internal committee is chaired by RS Baswana, a retired district and sessions judge. When contacted, Baswana told The Indian Express: “I am chairman of the committee and I am not supposed to tell you anything.” He did not respond to a query if Kamra will depose before the committee. In a statement on Thursday, IndiGo had said it had received “relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the investigation regarding this incident”.