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Delhi High Court Takes Suo Moto Cognizance Of "Stubborn Reluctance To Wear Masks Properly" On Flight; Issues Guidelines

Shreya Agarwal
10 March 2021 1:56 AM GMT
Delhi High Court Takes Suo Moto Cognizance Of Stubborn Reluctance To Wear Masks Properly On Flight; Issues Guidelines
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Justice C Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court,taking suo-motu cognizance of what he described as an "alarming situation" on an Air India flight bound towards Delhi from Kolkata on Mar 5, has issued a slew of directions to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and commercial airlines in the country with respect to in-flight Covid-19 protocol. In an order passed on Monday, he...

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Justice C Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court,taking suo-motu cognizance of what he described as an "alarming situation" on an Air India flight bound towards Delhi from Kolkata on Mar 5, has issued a slew of directions to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and commercial airlines in the country with respect to in-flight Covid-19 protocol.

In an order passed on Monday, he notes that "though all the passengers had worn masks, many passengers had worn the masks below their chin and were exhibiting a stubborn reluctance to wear their masks properly."

Justice Shankar notes that despite a search he could not trace any guidelines on the DGCA website on in-flight Covid-19 protocol and that the only guidelines he found – after an intrusive navigation on the website – were from May, 2020.

However, he said that while the court does not intend to criticise efforts by the Government authorities in trying to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic situation, "Sensitization of the citizenry has to precede, not succeed, galvanization of the governmental machinery."

He stated that, he observed the passengers' behaviour was thus, not only in the airbus but also within the flight and said that the cabin crew of the flight had shown helplessness in this regard.

Expressing concern over the fact that these passengers were blissfully ignorant until several entreaties by the judge himself to wear the masks properly, Justice Shankar highlighted in his order that closed air-conditioned environment in a flight where even one person suffers from Covid-19 can have "cataclysmic" effects and therefore, when the country is seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, this behaviour is "completely unconscionable."

Therefore, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Hari Shankar proceeded to lay down guidelines to lend teeth to any existing instructions with respect to the Covid-19 protocol, directing for the same to be highlighted adequately by concerned authorities.

Inter alia, he has directed the DGCA to:

1. Prominently reflect on its main website, instructions containing Covid-19 guidelines and protocols to be followed by passengers and in-flight crew in domestic flights, by displaying them in a distinct and different font, blinking or otherwise, or by any other suitable means.

2. Consider sending random observers on flights, without prior information, to check that Covid-19 protocols are followed in flights.

He has directed the airlines to ensure:

1. Handing over of written instructions on the Covid-19 in-flight protocol including measures on non-compliance to the passengers, alongwith the Boarding Pass.

2. Due sensitisation regarding passenger responsibilities both before as well as after boarding.

3. Inflight announcements which, presently, merely require the passengers to wear masks at all times, to be modified to include a cautionary word regarding penal action in the event of default.

4. Periodical checks of the aircraft by the cabin crew to supervise that all passengers comply with the protocol, especially regarding wearing of masks. Masks should be worn as directed by governmental instructions, covering the nose and mouth, and not worn merely covering the mouth or below the chin.

5. Immediate offloading of passengers unwilling to follow this protocol prior to the flight taking off, and action against the passenger in accordance with guidelines of DGCA or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, including placing the passenger on a "no-fly" regimen, either permanently or for a stipulated, sufficiently long period – in case the passenger refuses to comply despite reminders.

6. Strict compliance and enforcement of all penal provisions, with no relaxation whatsoever.

The court also said that relaxation, if necessary, should be allowed only in cases which are truly exceptional, such as for medical reasons, after a conscious assessment and evaluation of (a) the necessity of the passenger to fly and (b) the justifiability of the passenger's refusal to wear the mask, weighed against the risk to public interest involved if the passenger is allowed to travel without a mask.

The order states, "In deserving cases - which should be the exception, not the rule - the airline should take steps to isolate the passenger so that he is kept at a safe distance from other passengers in the flight

Click Hear To Download/Read Order


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