The Delhi High Court on Monday asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to carry out a periodic review of the COVID-19 situation to decide the norms on wearing masks during air travel while complying with the instructions issued by the central government on account of the pandemic.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma, while dealing with an application favouring the relaxation of the mandate about wearing of masks on flights, said that although there are very few cases of the virus now, the court was not an expert body that can deal with such an issue.
The bench, also comprising Justice Subramonium Prasad, stated that the court can only ensure compliance with the existing rules framed by the expert bodies and recorded DGCA's statement that it has imposed fines on several people for violating COVID-19 norms.
The court was hearing an application by NGO 'Bridging The Gap Foundation', filed in a PIL which was registered following the experience of a sitting judge of the high court who travelled on a domestic flight during the pandemic.
The applicant, represented by advocate Somnath Bharti, said that norms concerning the mandatory wearing of masks have been updated all over the world and the mandate needs to be reviewed here also as on one hand, a passenger is asked to wear a mask on a flight but on the other hand, he is permitted to remove it if he "keeps sipping coffee" throughout his journey.
"DGCA will look into it and pass orders...Things have changed. Now there is no covid. There are very few cases," the court said.
"The application is disposed of with a direction that DGCA shall carry out a periodic review and adhere to the instructions issued by the Government of India from time to time," the court added.
On June 3, a high court 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.
DGCA, in its action taken report, said that it has issued the necessary orders for strict compliance with COVID-19 protocol at the airports and inside aircraft by all stakeholders and appropriate action has been initiated against passengers who did not wear masks in spite of repeated reminders and were subsequently "handed over the security staff on arrival".
"Pan India inspections are being carried on along with awareness, and exercises have been advised... The action taken report received from Delhi airport indicates that serious action is taken," the report said. The high court had earlier taken strong note of an "alarming situation" of passengers not properly wearing masks on flights and issued guidelines to all domestic airlines and DGCA for strict compliance, including penal action for offenders and periodical checks of the aircraft.
The court had said a situation when the country is seeing a resurgence of COVID-2019 cases after they had shown signs of ebbing, is completely unconscionable.
"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.
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