Thursday, January 30, 2020

Indigo’s action in Arnab-Kamra issue unfair and smacks of govt direction

No matter whether or not you believe Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami got “a taste of his own medicine” – to quote Congress MP Shashi Tharoor – from stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, the travel bans that four airlines have slapped on him are quite unjustified. While IndiGo, the airline that Goswami and Kamra were flying has banned him for six months, Go Airlines, Spicejet and Air India have banned him “until further notice”. It doesn’t help that the role played by civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri doesn’t befit a person holding such a high public office. Or that Rajeev Chandrasekhar – now a BJP MP – helped fund Republic TV and that Goswami is seen as someone who uses his TV studio to launch high-decibel broadsides into those opposing the government’s stance on a multitude of issues. The fact that IndiGo announced its decision by tagging Puri in a tweet also suggests some back-channel prodding from the ministry. Within a short while of this, Puri tweeted that “we are left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned”.

Where was due process? Under the rules, the maximum ban for what Kamra did was a three-month ban, but that too takes place after an internal committee examines the issue and, presumably, Kamra gets a chance to defend himself. Interestingly, the pilot of the IndiGo flight is reported to have sent a mail to the airline saying Kamra wasn’t particularly unruly; indeed that he had witnessed worse behavior from other passengers and that he had not even been consulted in the exercise. And while IndiGo still has reason for taking action since its other passengers were inconvenienced, there is not even the slightest justification for the other airlines to simply go by what the minister tweeted.
Apart from the possibility that this holds out for other passengers getting banned if the government wants this to happen, the double standards are too obvious to miss. Last month, BJP MP Pragya Thakur held up SpiceJet flight for over 45 minutes by refusing to change her seat despite the safety regulations being clear that someone needing a wheelchair could not be seated in the emergency row; but there was no attempt to impose a ban on her by SpiceJet or any suggestion by the minister that this be done by other airlines as well. Puri was not the minister when the Shiv Sena’s Ravindra Gaikwad assaulted Air India staffers but when he was banned from flying, the government directed the airline to revoke the ban after 14 days; the Shiv Sena, at that time, was an ally of the BJP government. And soon after the Kamra incident, a video was posted on twitter, of a Republic TV reporter walking up to RJD politician Tejaswi Yadav on a flight, in 2017, and haranguing him for an interview despite him saying he didn’t want to talk and that this was disturbing other passengers. Both the airlines and the minister are guilty of overstepping their boundaries.
30/01/20 Sarthak Ray/Financial Express
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