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25 Mar 2017

Bully gifts no-fly list excuse - Assault resurrects plan to weed out undesirable fliers, misuse concerns persist

Air India officials at Delhi airport where Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad, who assaulted a manager of the airline, was about to arrive to catch a flight on Friday. Banned from most flights, Gaikwad took a train to Mumbai. Picture by Prem Singh
Jayanta Roy Chowdhury, TT, New Delhi, March 24: The government is using the thuggish behaviour of an MP to explore the possibility of kick-starting the process to create its version of a no-fly list, loosely modelled on a US database that was built after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Senior civil aviation officials said the no-fly list would include "wanted" terror suspects, absconding criminals as well as people with a proven history of misbehaviour on flights or recognised as a threat to aviation security.
The government has been mulling over the preparation of such a list for some time, and the assault of an Air India official by Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad has galvanised the process, officials added.
Minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha is believed to be working on the modalities for creating such a list with inputs from the home ministry.
"There has been some thinking on this. This list can be prepared under the provisions of the Safety of Civil Aviation Act of 1982 and the Aircraft Act of 1934. In fact, even airlines have a right to debar a passenger or offload him if he or she endangers the safety of the flight," said Capt S.S. Panesar, former director (safety) of Indian Airlines, who is often consulted by the government on regulatory issues.
A section of lawyers said that while a passenger could be barred from boarding a flight under the provisions of the Aircraft Act, several high court rulings have wormed in pro-consumer safeguards that require airlines and government departments to come up with "reasonable grounds and listing of standard, transparent rules under which a passenger can be barred".
"Assault is an offence under the Indian Penal Code as well as the Aircraft Safety Act. But past court judgments have often taken airlines to task, especially in cases of autistic or disabled passengers being offloaded on grounds of flight safety," said senior Supreme Court counsel Dipak Bhattacharya.
"Any set of guidelines to create a no-fly list will have to take into account these judgments and will have to stand the test of judicial scrutiny on its reasonableness. Ultimately, it should not violate any passenger's fundamental right to movement."
On Friday, the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) banned Gaikwad, who had beaten up an Air India duty manager in Delhi, from flying on any aircraft operated by member airlines. The FIA members include IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Go Air.
"Air India and FIA member airlines have decided to ban this member of Parliament from flying on (any of) our flights with immediate effect," said Ujjwal Dey, associate director of the FIA.
If the list becomes reality, fliers may be asked to register a government-issued identity card - Aadhaar, PAN, passport or government ID - while buying tickets so that airlines can screen their names against the list and warn them that they may not be allowed to fly unless they can get a clearance from the authority managing the list.
Officials say it is still unclear who will finally control this "list" even though the civil aviation ministry initiated the move.
"Typically, in other countries, such lists are controlled by homeland security or anti-terrorist agencies. The civil aviation authorities merely help administer it," an official said.
In the US, the database is managed by the federal government's Terrorist Screening Center. The US list, which till 2001 had just 16 names on it, is believed to have swelled to 48,000 travellers by 2015.
Travellers can learn that their names are on the no-fly list only when they are unable to print a boarding pass at home or when they are refused boarding at an airline counter.
Canada, Singapore, China and Egypt are among countries that have their own no-fly lists.
Analysts say there are five ways a name can figure on the US list: suspicion of involvement in an act of terror, frequent travel to a terror-suspect country or to a tax haven, having criminal warrants against one or a criminal past, involvement in social media posts or activity noted by intelligence agencies that are considered suspect, and "clerical errors".
Some countries like China and Singapore have red-flagged people on their no-fly lists for unruly behaviour. China is also believed to have placed dissidents on the list while Malaysia includes tax violators.
Pakistan has an "exit control list" that can be used to stop passengers from flying out of the country without assigning any reason.
Bhattacharya, the senior counsel, said: "This is a test that Indian authorities will have to clear. If their lists are whimsical, then the list or the methodology can be struck down by courts."
Two years ago, Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, who was crusading against coal mines in tribal areas, was stopped by immigration authorities from flying to London without assigning any written reason.
Later, Delhi High Court not only set aside the lookout notice issued against Pillai but asked the government to expunge the "offload" endorsement from her passport.

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