The Delhi High Court today allowed breath analyser test through the tube process for air traffic controllers (ATCs) that was earlier suspended in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The high court modified its March 23 interim order suspending Breath Analyser Test (BAT) through the tube process for ATCs, saying the DGCA will be bound by the June 16 recommendations of the medical board.
Justice Navin Chawla allowed the application of DGCA seeking modification of the earlier order and to implement the medical report of Directorate General of Medical Services (DGMS).
As per the DGMS medical board''s recommendation, one machine would be used per person and not again for the next 12 hours.
The court said the interest of ATCs and passengers has to be balanced and noted that BAT is being presently conducted on pilots also in a restricted manner and the medical report has been given by those who are experts in their fields.
"With the respondent (DGCA) taking all precautionary measures and restricted testing, this court finds no reason to continue with the March 23 order. The interim order shall stand modified to the extent that respondent no. 2 (DGCA) will be bound by the recommendations of the medical board till further orders," the high court said.
The DGCA's application was filed in pending petition by the Air Traffic Controllers' Guild (India), represented through Advocates Piyush Sanghi and Khushbu Sahu, seeking direction to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to temporarily suspend the BAT through the current tube process to prevent further spread of the virus.
The petitioner had said that on a random basis 10 per cent of the ATCs are subjected to the BAT, which uses equipment that could result in the spread of COVID-19.
DGCA, in its interim application, said in pursuance to the high court''s earlier order, DGMS (Air) had convened a meeting with representatives from DGCA and AAI to formulate the alternative protocol to conduct the BAT and it was concluded that BAT is the most efficient and reliable form of detecting alcohol in the breath of the person.
It said the other methods, that is, testing of blood and urine are neither considered to be practical nor there is any provision in any Civil Aviation Requirements (CARs) till date.
Advocate Anjana Gosain, representing DGCA, submitted that it has been decided to accept the June 16 medical report and implement it by conducting random tests in a day by the concerned airline in terms of the protocol.
The court was informed by a DGCA official that keeping in view the risk involved, random tests are being done on pilots but no ATCs were tested due to the high court''s stay order.
It further said as per the recommendations, once the BAT machine is used for testing an ATC or cabin crew member, it would not be used again for the next 12 hours.
It is also suggested in the report that apart from random testing, the concerned authorities should be empowered to test any ATC who is suspected to have consumed any psychoactive substance, it said.
"It is not out of place that since March 2020, no form of testing has been conducted and the same can be a safety issue for the aircraft as well as the passengers. In view of the fact that limited functioning of aviation activities have been permitted and in the near future, in view of normalcy, some method of testing must be introduced," the plea said, adding that DGCA would like to resume BAT to ensure safety for the crew and passengers.
The high court, in its March 23 order, had directed the authorities to hold an urgent meeting to explore alternative methods for the test, which was not invasive in nature and does not increase chances of spread of COVID-19.
It had directed the DGMA (Air), Delhi to immediately convene a meeting of the DGCA, AAI, Ministry of Civil Aviation, including doctors or medical specialists to draw up an alternative protocol for conducting breath analyser tests on ATCs.
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