Mumbai airport slaps hefty fine on Covid norm violators

This action comes after the DGCA and Civil Aviation Minister suggested strict action against those refusing to obey Covid rules

Mumbai airport slaps hefty fine on Covid norm violators
The Mumbai airport has decided to strictly enforce Covid protocols. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Prateek Karandikar

The Indian aviation authorities continue to be severe on passengers refusing to follow Covid safety norms with the Mumbai airport deciding to impose a spot fine of Rs 1,000. 

This directive came into force from April 1 after the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on March 30 suggested spot fines, with the help of the local police, to act as a deterrent for flouting Covid safety norms.

"Basis the directive issued by the DGCA, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) will levy a fine on any individual found violating the mandatory Covid-19 safety protocols at the airport with effect from April 1. A fine of Rs 1,000 will be issued to individuals who refuse to comply with Covid safety norms such as wearing face masks that cover the nose and mouth and maintaining social distancing amongst others at the airport," the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said in the statement.

The aviation regulator said in its circular that during inspections at some of the airports of the country, it was noticed that people were not properly adhering to the Covid norms. The DGCA, therefore, asked all airport operators to ensure that people wear their masks properly covering both their noses and mouths and maintain social distance. 

On March 13, the DGCA had issued a circular stating that the airport director or terminal manager must make sure that all passengers are wearing their masks properly and maintaining social distance within the airport premises. According to the regulator, passengers not following Covid safety rules despite proper warnings should be handed over to the security agencies and dealt with according to the law. 

The DGCA added that if a passenger refuses to wear the mask properly despite repeated warnings after entering the aircraft, he/she should be de-boarded, if need be, before departure. If a passenger refuses to wear a face mask or violates the Covid protocol for passengers during the course of the flight, he/she may be treated as 'unruly' and handled in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) by the airline concerned.

To top it all, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on March 30 that those refusing to obey Covid safety norms would face punitive action by the police. Puri had announced earlier that the airport authorities have been instructed to put passengers on 'no-fly' lists if they refuse to follow the standard operating procedures for combating Covid-19, ANI reported.

A view of Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Mohammed Shahid

The MIAL said that as part of the DGCA-mandated standard operating procedures (SOPs) for resumption of domestic flights in May last year after a two-month gap in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, physical and digital boards have been put up across the airport informing the passengers about the Covid-related safety guidelines. Regular announcements are also being made on the airport's public address system and marshals on the ground have been encouraging people to follow the rules. But now, the marshals have been instructed to levy fines on individuals refusing to follow the established Covid norms and practices, and in case of further non-compliance, the violators would be handed over to the authorities for further action. 

The MIAL move comes after its counterpart in Bengaluru started to levy fines on people for not complying with Covid safety norms, and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which runs nearly 90 airports in the country, including those in metros like Chennai and Kolkata, saying that travellers violating Covid protocols would be penalised, The Times of India reported. 

Also read: Flyers refusing to obey Covid norms set to face police action

According to the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), people inside the terminal who refuse to wear their masks despite requests would be either denied boarding or evicted from the terminal. The BIAL had imposed a fine of Rs 250 under Karnataka government rules on those violating Covid norms outside the terminal building, like those coming to see-off or receive passengers, or those in the parking area. 

AAI spokesperson JB Singh said that the state-run authority would be imposing fines on violators according to the AAI Management Regulations 2003. The AAI did not specify the fine amount, but the AAI Management Regulations 2003 say that fines can go up to Rs 500 for contravening provisions. 

The Indian aviation authorities were shaken into action after Delhi High Court judge Justice C Hari Shankar on March 8 took suo motu cognisance of the blatant violation of Covid protocols in the Indian aviation space. He had a bitter experience on an Air India flight from Kolkata to Delhi on March 5. Several passengers on that flight wore their masks below the chins and displayed a stubborn reluctance to wear their masks properly.     

"This behaviour was seen not only in the bus transporting the passengers from the airport to the flight but also within the flight itself. It was only on repeated entreaties made (by me) to the offending passengers that they condescended to wear their masks properly. On the cabin crew being questioned in this regard, they stated that they had directed all the passengers to wear masks, but were helpless in case they did not comply," the judge said.

The Bangalore airport has introduced strict measures against Covid norm violators. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/pixabay/sarang

This "alarming situation" led the high court to issue guidelines to all domestic airlines and the DGCA to ensure strict compliance with the Covid safety norms by the flyers, including penalties for the offenders and periodic checks of the aircraft.   

Indian airports and airlines had been facing considerable flak for giving social distancing norms the short shrift. Plane Vanilla carried a story in November 2020 documenting how social distancing norms were being blatantly disobeyed, and highlighted the ire and anguish of some of the flyers on social media. There were photos and videos of jam-packed shuttle buses and queues in front of airline counters with people standing in very close proximity to each other. Airlines came up with dry, bureaucratic replies to the brickbats on social media.

The actions taken by the Mumbai and Bengaluru airport authorities seem timely given that Maharashtra and Karnataka have been among the states worst affected by the Covid surge over the past few months. Maharashtra, in fact, has been worst hit by Covid-19 right from the start and has seen the highest surge in cases too. 

Also read: What Covid-19? In India's aviation sector, social distancing suddenly loses all value

On April 5, the government reported that the total number of daily new cases of Covid infection in India breached the one lakh mark for the first time, surpassing the earlier peak of 97,894 infections on September 17 last year. Since that September peak, new cases have largely been on the slide but started to rise since February. 

Maharashtra continued to report the highest number of daily cases at 57,074, according to April 5 figures. Karnataka was placed third in the list with a case count of 4,553. These two states, along with six others, namely Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab accounted for 82% of the massive 1,03,558 new cases.

Several states have imposed restrictions on flyers from the high Covid-surge states, including Maharashtra and Karnataka. Maharashtra itself has made it mandatory for passengers from Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa and Kerala to undergo RT-PCR tests at the airport unless they are carrying negative reports from tests done within 72 hours of their arrival. Back in November, the Maharashtra government had imposed such conditions on travellers from Delhi, Rajasthan, Goa and Gujarat. 

Asymptomatic passengers have to undergo home quarantine for 14 days unless intending to stay in Maharashtra for seven days or less. For international passengers, a negative RT-PCR test report is mandatory. 

From April 1, the CSMIA reduced the charge of RT-PCR test at the airport by 30% to Rs 600, in line with the directives of the Maharashtra government, PTI reported.          

Karnataka has made negative RT-PCR reports from tests done within 72 hours of arrival a must for people coming from Chandigarh, Punjab, Maharashtra and Kerala. Negative RT-PCR reports are necessary for international flyers too.

Airlines are fearing a sharp drop in travel to and from Maharashtra after the government imposed a partial lockdown in view of the record spike in Covid-19 infections. Senior executives of most carriers informed that bookings have already fallen by up to 15% for the next one week, The Economic Times reported on April 6.

(Cover image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Prateek Karandikar)