New Delhi: Supreme Court of India on Thursday (12 May 2016) awarded ₹10,00,000 as damages to be payable to a disabled petitioner by Domestic carrier SpiceJet within a period of two months.
The Supreme Court order by a two-Judge Bench comprising of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice R.K. Agrawal states that SpiceJet acted in a callous manner, and in the process violated Rules, 1937 and CAR, 2008 guidelines resulting in mental and physical suffering experienced by Jeeja Ghosh, the petitioner, and also unreasonable discrimination.
The judgment has been concluded with the observation that to most disabled persons, the society they live in is a closed door which has been locked and the key to which has been thrown away by the others.
This petition was spearheaded by Jeeja Ghosh, who is herself a disabled person, with the support of the NGO ADAPT (Able Disable All People Together). The case, brought up before the apex court though a PIL, got triggered by an incident involving SpiceJet.
Ms. Jeeja Ghosh is an Indian citizen with cerebral palsy. She is an eminent activist involved in disability rights. She is a Board member of the National Trust, an organization of the Government of India, set up under the “National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities” Act (Act 4 of 1999). Ms. Ghosh has been felicitated by the West Bengal Commission for Women on the occasion of International Women’s Day in the year 2004, and is the recipient of the Shri N.D. Diwan Memorial Award for Outstanding Professional Services in Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities by the National Society for Equal Opportunities of the Handicapped (NASEOH) in the year 2007. Ms. Ghosh is also the recipient of the ‘Role Model Award’ from the Office of the Disability Commissioner, Government of West Bengal, for the year 2009, and was also an elected Board Member of the National Trust for Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Disabilities and Mental Retardation from 14th August, 2008 to 19th July, 2011.
Ms. Ghosh was invited to an International Conference, North South Dialogue IV, in Goa, from the 19th to the
23rd of February, 2012, hosted by ADAPT. Theconference was intended to put a special focus on people with disabilities and their families, countries in the global South facing huge systemic and institutional barriers, and the tools for change that would make a difference in their lives in these countries.
Additionally, Ms. Ghosh was invited as one of 15 international individuals to review an Indo-German project which was being show-cased at the conference. ADAPT purchased return plane tickets for Ms. Ghosh, including a seat on flight SG 803, operated by SpiceJet Ltd. scheduled to fly from Kolkata to Goa on the morning of 19 February 2012.
The conference was to begin in the afternoon of 19 February 2012. After being seated on the flight, Ms Ghosh was approached by members of the flight crew who requested to see her boarding pass, which she gave them. Then they proceeded to order her off the plane. Despite her tearful protestations and informing them that she needed to reach Goa for the conference, they insisted that she de-board. After returning to the airport and arguing with airlines officials, she later discovered that the Captain had insisted that she be removed due to her disability.
As a result of the shock and trauma of this event Ms. Ghosh had trouble sleeping and eating, so she was taken to a doctor the following day where she was prescribed medication. Because of this, she was unable to fly to Goa on 20 February 2012, and, thus, missed the conference all together.
Not only did this humiliate and traumatize her, but it also deprived the conference organizer, ADAPT and all of the attendees of the opportunity to hear her thoughts and experiences, and prevented her from providing her analysis of the Indo-German project under review.
Ms Ghosh stated before the court that even after four years of this incident whenever she has a flashback, she felt haunted with that scene when she was pulled out of the plane, like a criminal. She continues to have nightmares. The petitioners preferred the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for putting the system in place so that other such differently abled persons do not suffer this kind of agony, humiliation and emotional trauma which amount to doing violence to their human dignity and infringes, to the hilt, their fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court order refers to SpiceJet letter to Ms Ghosh apologizing for the incident. However, according to her, SpiceJet tried to trivialize the incident by just mentioning that ‘inconvenience caused’ was ‘inadvertent’. It was also mentioned in the petition that before approaching the Supreme Court she had submitted a compliant to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment about the incident as well as to the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, West Bengal and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of India. Both had issued show cause notices to SpiceJet in response to which the NGO, a co-petitioner in this case was informed that a refund for flight, less ₹1,500 as a cancellation fee from the airlines pon which the return luggage had been booked through Jet Konnect, will be made. The petitioners perceived it as sprinkling salt on their wounds.
Ms Ghosh claimed that such behaviour by airlines Crew was outrageous and illegal. SpiceJet’s staff clearly violated ‘Civil Aviation Requirements’ dated 1May 2008 (CAR, 2008) with regard to ‘Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility’ issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) as authorized by Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rule which states:
“No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or persons with reduced mobility and their assistive aids/devices, escorts and guide dogs including their presence in the cabin, provided such persons or their representatives, at the time of booking and/or check-in for travel, inform the airlines or their requirement. The airline shall incorporate appropriate provisions in the online form for booking tickets so that all the required facilities are made available to the passengers with disabilities at the time of check-in.