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A ban on travel for life on parliamentarian Ravindra Gaikwad for assaulting an airline employee is excessive and arbitrary

~By Justice K Sreedhar Rao

The expression un-parliamentary is commonly used to condemn any phrase, word or act lacking civility of any person in a public forum. The parliamentary standard of conduct is used as a measure to judge the civility of a person. Ravindra Gaikwad, a parliamentarian, when not given the privilege of travelling in the Executive Class of an Air India flight from Pune to Delhi, indulged in abominable conduct by repeatedly assaulting one of the staff with a slipper. Air India rightly did not permit him to travel in the flight back. Further, the airline imposed a life ban on Gaikwad on its flights henceforth. Private airlines, exhibiting a spirit of comradeship, followed suit.

Gaikwad, by his criminal misconduct, has exposed himself to an indefeasible prosecution and eventual conviction for an offence of assault on a public servant which prevents him from discharging his duties. This is punishable under Section 353 of the IPC and for voluntarily causing hurt, punishable under Section 323. Assuming for a moment that Gaikwad was provoked by the victim and committed the said act of criminal misconduct, he would still be liable for conviction under Sections 333 and 334 of the IPC.  At any rate, he cannot escape from the clutches of law since it is imponderable to expect the victim of assault and other witnesses not supporting the prosecution case before a court of law.

However, a question would arise whether the imposition of a life ban on Gaikwad which does not permit him to travel in domestic airlines is valid under law? The relevant provisions of Article 8.1 of the General Conditions of Carriage for Passengers & Baggage of Air India Limited permits the carrier “to refuse the carriage of any passenger for the reasons of safety or in the exercise of its reasonable discretion: the carrier determines that the conduct of the passenger cause discomfort or make himself or herself objectionable to other passenger or involve any hazard or risk to himself or herself or to other persons or to the property.” The rules of other private airlines have a similar provision that “the Airline can refuse to carry the passenger if the customer has committed misconduct on a previous flight and there is a reasonable likelihood of such conduct may be repeated”.

Gaikwad has, indeed, committed a criminal misconduct punishable under law. But Air India and other airlines cannot put a life ban on him. The fact that he assaulted the airline’s staff does not permit an inference of repetition of such misconduct in future travels. Airline rules give discretion to them to reject travel facility in case of objectionable misconduct of a passenger like in the present case. The airlines’ right to refuse emplaning the passenger for misconduct under the rule is limited to the incident and the flight in question. Such discretion cannot be stretched to impose a life ban either by the aggrieved airline or other airlines in a trade union spirit.

The conduct of airlines in imposing a life ban goes against the Fundamental Right under Article 19 (1) (d) which gives freedom of movement and Article 21 of the constitution which ensures life and liberty. The Supreme Court in Satwanth Singh Sawhney vs Ramanathan and others has held that the expression personal liberty in Article 21 includes right of locomotion and travel abroad and no person can be deprived of the right to go abroad except according to the procedure established by law.

With regard to criminal misconduct committed by Gaikwad, he has to suffer the consequences of criminal law, but further imposition of life ban to travel in any airline would be a highly excessive, arbitrary and unreasonable restriction. If the logic of the airlines is to be accepted, every criminal convicted may have to face denial of his civil and human rights.

Air India or any private airline is rendering public service in the discharge of its duties. It is mandatory on their part to ensure the Fundamental Rights of citizens. Plain reading of rules does not suggest an unbridled right and discretion by airlines to impose a life ban. Air India might be aggrieved by the ass-ault on its staff member, but its reaction in imposing a life ban is illegal and a violation of the Fundamental Rights of the delinquent.

The writer is former acting chief justice
of Karnataka and Gauhati High Courts

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