No, Minister

Kunal Kamra airline ban, Kunal Kamra Arnab Goswami Indigo flight, Hardeep Puri Kunal Kamra, Express Editorial

The episode involving stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and TV anchor Arnab Goswami is troubling at many levels.

There can be no two views on ensuring passenger safety on board airlines. In the post-9/11 world, the aircraft cabin has become a space where there can be no latitude — or tolerance — for unruly behaviour. Yet the episode involving stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and TV anchor Arnab Goswami is troubling at many levels. IndiGo, the airline concerned, tagged Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri on twitter while announcing its decision to impose a ban without even waiting for its internal crew report on whether Kamra’s behaviour threatened passenger safety. Then SpiceJet, Air India and Go Air followed suit after being prodded by the Minister himself. Nothing better illustrates how the corporate sector buckles to political pressure, no questions asked. It also underlines not only government overreach but a contempt for due process. For Puri, just the video posted by Kamra was evidence enough to accuse, indict and convict all in a tweet.

As per guidelines, when airlines receive complaints of unruly behaviour from the pilot-in-command, the incident is referred to an internal committee which shall decide on the matter within 30 days. Pending the decision of the committee, the airline can ban the passenger, though such a period may not exceed 30 days. But in this case, the process went out of the window. The pilot-in-command Rohit Mateti has, to his credit, documented the chain of events and has stated that while Kamra’s behaviour was “unacceptable and verbally abusive”, he complied with the crew’s instruction and that the offence “cannot be classified” even in Level 1 category. The pilot further noted that the airline did not consult him and took a decision solely based on social media posts.

Surely, Puri, a seasoned diplomat, knows where the red lines are. His concern for passenger safety is touching. Yet, by stepping in, his “advice” to airlines to impose restrictions was effectively a sarkari diktat that most promptly adhered to. It shows up the enormous sway the Indian state continues to command over the private sector. Structures to protect private players from not implementing unreasonable state directives simply do not exist. Bending is the only option. This is not how a mature economy functions. More so when Puri himself is the prime mover of a well thought-out, bold and ambitious plan to disinvest Air India. The Minister needs a reminder that disinvestment begins from his office. It means, first of all, respecting due process in a company you don’t own.