Multiple airlines' ban on comedian Kunal Kamra flying in their planes is a violation of due process in situations such as this, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) sources said on Wednesday. The sources pointed out that while a ban was not against the rules, there is a process to be followed before such action can take place. Mr Kamra has been banned for heckling a TV channel editor on an IndiGo flight on Tuesday.
According to the sources, Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) state that on receipt of a complaint an internal committee must be formed, within 30 days to probe the matter. The decision taken by the committee can be appealed against in an appellate body of the Civil Aviation Ministry and a court.
Meanwhile, passengers(s) can only get a temporary 30-day ban.
In an unsigned and unstamped statement posted on Twitter the DGCA said: "the matter is to be referred to the internal committee" that will give a final decision, within 30 days, that will be "binding on the airline concerned".
The statement, however, makes no reference to the current ban and whether it will be allowed to stand or whether it will be reduced in accordance with the rules.
Earlier on Wednesday, moments after Kunal Kamra was banned for six months by IndiGo, the government announced it was urging other airlines to do the same. On cue, Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir followed, banning him "till further notice".
Vistara and AirAsia said they were reviewing the matter.
@MoCA_GoI@HardeepSPuri In light of the recent incident on board 6E 5317 from Mumbai to Lucknow, we wish to inform that we are suspending Mr. Kunal Kamra from flying with IndiGo for a period of six months, as his conduct onboard was unacceptable behaviour. 1/2— IndiGo (@IndiGo6E) January 28, 2020
"Offensive behaviour designed to provoke & create disturbance inside an aircraft is absolutely unacceptable and endangers safety of air travellers. We are left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned," Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had posted on Twitter.
The airlines tagged Mr Puri in tweets announcing a compliance that now seems to have been in haste.
According to the DGCA there are three categories in the list of passengers banned from flying.
The first of these, which appears be closest to the Civil Aviation Minister's description of Mr Kamra's behavior - i.e. "offensive behaviour designed to provoke & create disturbance" - is "disruptive behaviour", for which the maximum punishment is only a three-month ban.
The other two - "physically abusive behaviour" and "endangering aircraft and passengers" - carry bans of six months and two years, respectively.
In a statement on Twitter Mr Kamra said he was only "exercising my right to speech" and said he was shocked by the ban.
"Fact of the matter is that at no point was I disruptive and at no point did I not follow orders of the cabin crew or the captain. At no point did I endanger the safety of any passenger on board," he said, adding that, so far as he knew, no formal complaint had been made on the matter.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi criticised the ban, calling it the "act of a coward leveraging his influence with the government to silence a critic".
The apparently hasty action against Kunal Kamra is in sharp distinction to the lack of action after BJP MP Pragya Thakur, who faces charges in an ongoing terror case, held up a SpiceJet flight last month.
She argued with crew and passengers after refusing to vacate a seat next to the emergency exit despite being on a wheelchair as required under aviation rules.
In 2017 Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulted Air India staff but was banned for only two weeks.
(With input from PTI)