The flying ban imposed by four airlines on comedian Kunal Kamra for heckling journalist Arnab Goswami on board an IndiGo aircraft may have violated the government’s rules on no-fly lists issued in September 2017.

The worst penalty for unruly behaviour on flights, if limited to verbal harassment, is a flying ban for just three months, following an internal inquiry. IndiGo banned Kamra for six months within hours of the incident. Kamra has since been banned by Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir as well, following advice from Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri.

In the guidelines for no-fly lists, the government has categorised unruly behaviour as verbal abuse, physical abuse and life-threatening abuse. No-fly lists contain the names of passengers barred for time periods depending on the nature of their offence.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation chief Arun Kumar confirmed to HuffPost India that the action taken against Kamra by various airlines was a clear violation of the “Handling of Unruly Passengers” rules. In case of unruly behaviour restricted to verbal confrontation, airlines should first impose a temporary ban of 30 days on the passenger, and then conduct an internal inquiry headed by a retired judge, he said.

Kumar pointed out that Air India had been “wise enough” to impose a ban on Kamra for an indefinite period, and was awaiting the outcome of an inquiry conducted by the airlines. “In incidents restricted to verbal confrontation, a ban should not be more than three months,” Kumar told the news website. He said IndiGo should have waited for an internal inquiry to be completed. It is not clear if IndiGo held one.

In their tweets announcing the flying ban, Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir did not specify a time period as IndiGo did. They said Kamra was banned from flying on their flights “until further notice”.

The rules state that a complaint of unruly behaviour by a passenger needs to be filed by the pilot-in-command, and it should be followed by an inquiry within 30 days. During that period, the passenger may be banned from flying on the airline. Airlines must share their no-fly lists with the directorate and other airlines, but others are not bound by them.

However, soon after the HuffPost report, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation issued a statement, claiming that the news website had “misquoted/misrepresented” the facts as stated by Kumar. The DGCA said the action taken by the airlines was “in complete consonance” with the rules, and the matter would now be referred to the internal committee as prescribed. The internal committee needs to “give its final decision in 30 days by giving the reasons in writing, which shall be binding on the airline concerned”, the statement said.

In the video that Kamra posted on Twitter on Tuesday evening, he was seen calling Goswami a “coward” and mocking him for being a “nationalist”. Goswami, who is the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, did not respond to Kamra’s comments, and kept looking at his laptop and had his earphones plugged in.

In a statement released after three airlines had suspended him from flying, Kamra said the bans were not shocking. “At no point did I endanger the safety of any passenger on board, the only damage I caused was to the inflated ego to the ‘journalist’ Arnab Goswami,” he added.

Rules on penalising unruly behaviour

According to the rules, a Level One offence includes any unruly physical gestures or verbal harassment – including unruly behaviour from drunk passengers – for which the person can be banned from flying for up to three months.

For physically abusive behaviour on board or at the airport, or a Level Two offence, a ban of up to six months is proposed. A minimum ban of two years will be imposed on someone damaging aircraft systems, or assaulting the crew on board, which is a Level Three offence.

“A decision will be taken by an independent committee under a retired district judge within a period of 30 days of alleged offence,” then Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had said. “The no-fly ban will be in addition to any statutory legal action that can be taken against the offender under existing laws.”

The no-fly list rules had come months after several incidents of misbehaviour were reported at airports and on flights by a few lawmakers.

“At no point was I disruptive and at no point did I not follow orders of the cabin crew or the captain,” Kamra said in a statement issued to the media. . “At no point did I endanger the safety of any passenger on board. The only damage I caused was to the inflated ego to the journalist.”