Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Air India-Sena MP row: Govt maintaining official no-fly list is a bad idea

The airline-wide boycott of Ravindra Gaikwad, a member of Parliament belonging to the Shiv Sena, following his assault of a duty manager on an Air India flight, has prompted the civil aviation ministry to consider drawing up an official no-fly list as well as rules specifying the grounds on which airlines can bar people from travelling. Nothing could be more ill-advised. Instead of applauding the private airlines for supporting their public sector competitor in a united reprimand of the loutish behaviour of an elected representative, these moves send all the wrong signals and open the door for government intervention in a matter that is best dealt with at the level of individual airlines. For one, the moves suggest that the government is equivocal about Mr Gaikwad’s conduct. His attack was doubly reprehensible because it was a blatant misuse of power provoked by the airline’s inability to meet an MP entitlement — in this case, a business-class seat on an all-economy flight. It is astonishing that Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan should consider a privilege motion by the Shiv Sena on the airline boycott of their MP. Surely, there are more important issues for members to consider.

Moreover, these rules and no-fly lists will appropriate from the airline industry, in which the private sector dominates, the right guaranteed under international aviation law to accept or decline passengers on grounds of flight safety. Already, there are reports that rules could be amended to allow Mr Gaikwad to avail air travel because, as Ms Mahajan reportedly said, an MP “can’t take a train every time” to attend Parliament. Mandating the dos and don’ts of public behaviour is, at best, a hazardous business for governments when set against a citizen’s rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Such rules run the risk of opening room for litigation. The experience in the US, where the list was mobilised after 9/11, has been far from happy, not least because people can be assigned to it without even being informed.
29/03/17 Business Standard