Bombay High Court on 22.03.2020 had asked the Centre to inform the number of passengers from different nations who tested COVID positive. This applied to those who were positive after landing in India and not before taking the flight. The stranded passengers are from the USA. The government evacuated the passengers under the Vande Bharat Mission.
Air India Commander Devan Y Kanani filed a petition before the Hon’ble Court. He claimed that the flight violated the circular vide 23.03.2020 issued by the Indian Government. It laid down the rule of keeping the middle seat empty for the passenger’s evacuation.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh appeared for the Union of India. He sought that the Court makes the Directorate General of Civil Aviation a party to the case. As a result, Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, appeared on behalf of the DGCA and Air India. He assured that the flights had complied with all safety and social distancing norms.
DGCA also directed the airlines to keep the middle seats vacant. He let them know that protective gear like a 3-layered mask, face shields, etc. are being provided by Air India. Air India also filed an affidavit for this. It states that “over 70,000 Indians have to return by June 16 and 85,000 Indians in the third phase of evacuation. Over 6.5 lakh Indians stranded abroad due to the outbreak of COVID-19 have reached out seeking a rescue.”
On Anil Singh’s seeking the inclusion of Ministry of Civil Aviation as a party, the bench said that “it would decide the same after hearing an application from the Ministry.”
While hearing the petition on 22nd May 2020, the Bombay High Court concluded that “the circular stating the middle seats be empty applies to Air India’s non- scheduled international flights.” Then, the Ministry and Air India moved the Supreme Court against the High Court order.
On 25.05.2020, the SC allowed Air India to operate non-scheduled flights. This included the centre seat bookings for 10 days up to 06.06.20. Following the SC order, DGCA directed airlines to try to keep the middle seats vacant. It also directed to provide ‘wrap-around gowns’ to passengers who had these seats. Further, the Court asked the Centre to submit the data of such passengers by 03.06.2020 evening.
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