Petition Alleges Violation of Government Circular by Air India During Vande Bharat Mission

The Bombay High Court has asked the Centre in a petition about the number of passengers evacuated by Air India from foreign countries, under the Vande Bharat Mission; those who tested positive for COVID-19 after landing in India, and were not positive at the time of boarding the flight. The Centre has to submit the data before next Wednesday evening. The next hearing is on June 4, 2020.

Commander Deven Y Kanani of Air India, filed the petition. He relied on upon the Government of India circular dated March 23, 2020. He claimed that Air India violated the said circular and didn’t keep the middle seat empty at the evacuation from USA.

The Arguments Of The Authorities

Additional Solicitor General, Anil Singh appearing for the Centre; asked for making the Ministry of Civil Aviation a party to the case. Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta appeared for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India; he stated that there was proper following of safety norms and social distancing was maintained.

He informed that the Directorate had directed the airlines to keep middle seat empty; and if not possible then provide the passengers with three-layered masks, face shields etc. Air India filed an affidavit which stated that they would bring back 70,000 Indians by June 16; and 85,000 Indians in the third phase of evacuation. More than 6.5 lakh Indians stranded abroad, have reached out the authorities asking for rescue, the affidavit states.

Decision Of The Supreme Court

The Bombay High Court held that the said circular instructing to keep the middle seat empty was applicable to India’s non-scheduled flights. This led to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India approaching the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has instructed the Centre to provide the report till next week. It also held that it would only accept the request for making Ministry of Civil Aviation a party; after the application from the ministry.

Earlier, in a special sitting on May 25, the Apex Court had allowed Air India to operate non-scheduled flights with centre seat bookings for 10 days up to June 6. Following the SC order, the Directorate directed airlines to try to keep the middle seats on flights vacant or provide ‘wrap-around gowns’ to passengers who are allotted these seats.

Ishan Harlalka
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