On Tuesday, domestic airline IndiGo banned Kamra from flying on its flights for six months after he heckled journalist Arnab Goswami on board an aircraft. Later, three other airlines – Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir – also banned Kamra from travelling on their flights “until further notice”. AirAsia India and Vistara airlines said they were reviewing the matter, PTI reported.
Gandhi tweeted: “The ban imposed on #kunalkamra by 4 airlines is the act of a coward leveraging his influence with the [government] to silence a critic. Those who use their ‘news’ cameras as 24x7 tools of propaganda, should show some spine when the camera is turned on them.”
This was an apparent reference to the news coverage on Goswami’s TV channel Republic TV. In a video that Kamra posted on Twitter on Tuesday evening, he was seen calling Goswami a “coward” and mocking him for being a “nationalist”, while in a flight to Lucknow. Goswami did not respond to Kamra’s comments, and kept looking at his laptop and had his earphones plugged in.
Earlier in the day, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said the action taken by the airlines was “in complete consonance” with the rules for penalising unruly behaviour by passengers on flights. The authority said the matter would now be referred to an internal committee, which needs to “give its final decision in 30 days by giving the reasons in writing, which shall be binding on the airline concerned”.
The DGCA was responding to news reports that said – including one citing the DGCA’s chief Arun Kumar himself – that the airlines’ action violated the government’s rules.
In the guidelines for no-fly lists, the government has categorised unruly behaviour as verbal abuse, physical abuse and life-threatening abuse. The first case, that of verbal abuse, falls under a Level One offence, for which a person can be banned from flying for not more than three months, following an internal inquiry. But IndiGo had banned Kamra for six months within hours of the incident, and Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri had advised other airlines to take similar action.
Directorate General of Civil Aviation chief Arun Kumar told HuffPost India that 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.