Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of R.D. Dhanuka and Abhay Ahuja, JJ. while addressing a petitiOn in regard to leaving the middle set vacant in the Air India Flight, held that,
Paramount consideration is the health and safety of passengers and to achieve the object that they are not infected by Corona virus when they undertake any such travel.
Petitioner working with Air India limited placed its grievance that Air India Limited had not been following the Government of India Circular dated 23rd March, 2020 and the condition that emphasised as a grievance was with regard to seat allocation at the time of checking is to be done in a manner to ensure that the seat between two passengers is kept empty.
The purpose of the above-mentioned circular was to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Counsel for Air India Limited, Dr Chandrachud submitted that the said circular does not apply to non-scheduled commercial flight but would apply only to the domestic flights. Further, he added that all precautions required to be taken so as to prevent spread of Covid-19 are taken while lifting the passengers from abroad and to bring these stranded passengers in India.
“…even if one seat is kept vacant between two seats, even then criteria of social distancing prescribed by the Government of India would not be satisfied.”
Petitioner’s Counsel Panickar submitted that if Air India’s argument is accepted then in that case, no preventive measures in view of COVID-19 shall be taken.
According to the Circular, guidelines also provides prosecuting preventive measures including social distancing to be taken not only by Air lines but also by the Airport Authority at the Airports.
Bench observed that Counsel for the Petitioner and Air India Limited, prima facie, did not indicate that said Circular dated 23rd March, 2020 does not apply to non-schedule flights operated by Air India Limited for lifting Indian stranded passengers abroad.
Further the Bench said that prima facie it cannot accept the Air India Counsel’s submission that social distancing measures as provided in the said Circular would apply only to Scheduled Flight and not to non-scheduled commercial flights or only to domestic operation and not to International.
Object behind the 23rd March, 2020 Circular of GOI is for the safety of passengers and protection of their health during this COVID-19 Pandemic.
Circular can not be interpreted to apply differently to the passengers who are travelling from abroad and the domestic passengers.
There would certainly be a reasonable caution and care of “safe and healthy travel” is what the measures of social distancing mentioned in the Circular intend without any differentiation of the category of passengers. This would be required to be recognized as legitimate expectation and concomitant to right to life guaranteed to the citizens who are undertaking such travel.
Thus, in Court’s opinion Air India violated the Government of India Circular dated 23rd March, 2020 by not keeping one seat between two seats vacant.
Hence Court directed respondent’s 2 and 2 to comply with circular and while lifting their passengers from abroad to India also in respect of non-scheduled commercial flights.
Further the Court directed that 23rd March Circular be read with 22nd May, 2020 Circular in so far as domestic flights are concerned.[Deven Y. Kanani v. D.G.C.A, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 660, decided on 22-05-2020]
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