The Delhi High Court on Friday asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to issue binding guidelines for enforceability of mask mandates and COVID protocol at airports and in airplanes.
In fact, the Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Sachin Datta ordered that those air passengers who violate guidelines on wearing of masks or refuse to follow hand hygiene norms should be put on the no-fly list. "It is necessary for respondents to ensure implementation of norms on ground. For this purpose, DGCA should issue separate binding guidelines authorising staff at airports, flights, captains, pilots etc to take strict action against passengers and others for violating masking and hand-hygiene norms. Such persons should be booked and fined and placed in no-fly list. Let a report on action taken in this regard be placed on record, sometime in July" the order stated.
The High Court was hearing a suo motu petition registered by Justice C Hari Shankar in March last year regarding non-adherence by air passengers to social distancing norms and COVID protocol like wearing masks. Interestingly, the Delhi High Court judge was prompted to initiate the case after his personal experience on a Kolkata-New Delhi flight when obstinate fellow passengers refused to wear masks properly and adhere to Covid appropriate behaviour despite repeated exhortations.
The single-judge had then issued guidelines towards mask mandates and pandemic protocol, including considering placing unruly passengers on the no-fly list.
The present Bench effectively sought to make the same binding in its Friday’s order.
Counsel for the DGCA submitted that the COVID protocol and standards have not been diluted and appropriate directions had been issued in compliance with the earlier order. Justice Sanghi stated that the problem lay in implementation of the order. "Tell staff to implement this strictly and authorise them to take strict action against those not masking. Impose heavy fines," the Bench remarked.
When another counsel gave the example of how masks can be continuously removed citing excuses like sipping coffee, the Bench remarked that the endeavour is to minimise the risk. Justice Sanghi also orally expressed concern with the spurt of cases in Mumbai.
The order stated that the pandemic has not abated and keeps 'springing up its ugly head every now and then', sparing not even the DGCA counsel who had to appear virtually on account of being infected with COVID.