New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Friday called for strict action against those found violating masking and hand hygiene norms at airports and in aircraft, observing that the COVID-19 pandemic has not abated and keeps springing up its ugly head.
The high court said all such persons, who are found to be violating these norms, should be booked and fined and they should be placed on the no-fly list and added that it is essential to introduce sufficient deterrence to enforce compliance of norms.
It said it is noticed that very often the norms are not implemented on the ground with the seriousness with which they are framed and therefore, it is essential for the authorities, including Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to ensure that the implementation on the ground is effected properly.
"For this purpose, we are of the view that the DGCA should give separate binding directions to all airlines to authorise the staff at airports and in aircraft, including air hostesses, captains, pilots and others to take strict action against passengers and others who violate the masking and hand hygiene norms," a bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Sachin Datta said.
The court noted the submission of DGCA's advocate Anjana Gosain, who herself is inflicted with COVID-19 and appeared through video conferencing, that the Ministry of Civil Aviation has issued another an order on May 10, calling for strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocol.
She said the authorities are seriously implementing norms regarding masking at airports and in aircraft by all concerned.
"The issuance of said order, in our view, is the right step since the pandemic has not abated and keeps springing up its ugly head," the bench said, adding that guidelines are always in place and it is the practical compliance which becomes a problem and "we falter".
It said let necessary steps be taken and further action taken report be placed before the court and listed the matter for further hearing on July 18.
The court's order came in a PIL, registered on the experience of a sitting judge of the high court while travelling by a domestic flight during the pandemic.
Justice C Hari Shankar had on March 8, 2021, taken suo motu cognisance of the situation after witnessing passengers not wearing masks properly during transportation from airport to the flight and their stubborn reluctance to wear mask properly.
The court, which had issued various guidelines to the DGCA and airlines for immediate compliance, had said it was constrained to pass the order because of an alarming situation which was witnessed by the judge himself during an Air India flight from Kolkata to New Delhi on March 5, 2021.
During the hearing, the court observed that people may not wear N-95 masks in flights but they must at least wear a surgical mask as the idea is to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Doctors also wear surgical mask the whole day, the bench said, adding that only at the time of meals the passengers can take off the mask and the moment they finish their meals, they have to wear it again.
"People violating should be physically removed from the area if they have to be..," it said.
The DGCA had earlier informed the court that they were taking action against passengers who were not properly wearing mask after repeated warnings and they will be de-boarded before departure and may be treated as "unruly passengers".
The DGCA had also said in its circular that passengers shall wear masks and maintain social distancing norms at all times during air travel. The mask shall not be moved below the nose except under exceptional circumstances, it had said.
"CISF or other police personnel deployed at the entrance of the airport shall ensure that no one is allowed to enter the airport without wearing a mask," it had said.
In case, any passenger is not following COVID-19 protocol, they should be handed over to security agencies after proper warning. If required, they may be dealt as per law, it had said.
The high court had earlier taken strong note of an "alarming situation" of passengers not properly wearing masks in flights and issued guidelines to all domestic airlines and DGCA for strict compliance, including penal action for offenders and periodical checks of the aircraft.
"Passengers in a flight are in a closed air-conditioned environment, and, even if one of the passengers suffers from COVID-19, the effect on other passengers could be cataclysmic. It is a matter of common knowledge that being within arm's length distance of a COVID-19 carrier, even if he is asymptomatic and is merely speaking, is more than sufficient to transmit the virus," it had said.
If despite being reminded, he or she refuses to follow the protocol, action should be taken against the passenger in accordance with the guidelines issued by the DGCA or Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, including placing him or her on a 'no-fly' regimen, either permanently or for a stipulated, sufficiently long, period, it had said.