New Delhi: The government on Tuesday ordered an inquiry and issued notice to Continental Airlines for its "wilful violation" of Indian laws, saying that the frisking of former President APJ Abdul Kalam was "absolutely unpardonable".
The Delhi Police registered a case against it. However, the US carrier justified its action, saying it was in accordance with procedure.
"We have received a complaint and have registered a case," Joint Commissioner of Police Satyendra Garg said while describing the incident in which the airline allegedly flouted civil aviation norms by subjecting Kalam to a full body check - the former president was even asked to remove his footwear as he waited on the aero bridge of the Newark-bound flight at Delhi airport recently.
FIR was lodged in the case after the Bureau of
Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) approached the police against
the staff of the American airliner for carrying out
pre-embarkation body check of Kalam, which is in gross
violation of a BCAS circular which exempts specified
VVIPs/VIPs from security checks.
"As per the FIR, on April 21, Kalam was travelling by
Continental Airlines Flight No.CO-083 from IGI Airport to New
York. As he proceeded towards the aircraft, the staff of the
Continental Airlines carried out frisking of Kalam in
contravention of the BCAS rule even as CISF personnel pointed
out that he was exempt from such checks," it said.
Highly placed sources said the case has been registered under the omnibus Aircraft Act.
The FIR would be lodged under the Aircraft Act. As per reports, the case would be registered under Section 11 (A) of the Act for wilfully violating airport circular.
If convicted, the section carries a prison term of six months for the staff involved and/or a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.
Continental Airlines, in a press release, reiterated that it has done no wrong as its staff was only following the standard US security procedures and that no exemptions were allowed in such procedures.
"As all carriers flying to the US, Continental Airlines must follow the requirements and procedures of the US Department of Homeland Security. This procedure is followed by all carriers flying to the US from most of the countries in the world and there is no exemption to this rule," the airlines said in a statement.
Laurent Recoura, senior country director (India), Continental Airlines, said: "We believe that Dr. Kalam was not offended and we would like to thank him again for flying with us."
Parliament expresses shock
The Opposition too is gunning for the US airliner, with the incident causing uproarious scenes in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP has demanded that the airliner be banned from Indian skies if it can’t follow Indian rules, while the Left has indicated bias towards Kalam, possibly due to his surname.
The entire Rajya Sabha including Deputy Chairman K Rehman
Khan expressed anguish over the "humiliation" meted out to
Kalam, whom members cutting across party lines described as
the tallest figure and a national hero.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is also taking the matter very seriously and has assured strict action against Continental. He has also said that he will go and meet Kalam and apologise to him personally.
"The frisking or action per se was absolutely wrong. The former President and other such dignitaries are exempt from such frisking," Patel pointed out. The minister briefed the PM on the issue late in the evening.
After Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley had raised the issue in the house during zero hour, Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan said: "It is the unanimous sentiment of the house that this is a very serious matter. I hope the government will take note and take appropriate action."
Patel also denied reports that security operations at the airport had been outsourced. "Security has not been outsourced. It is still the responsibility of the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force). This incident involved the security of the airline at the embarkation point," Patel pointed out.
In the Lok Sabha, the issue was raised by Deputy Leader
of the BJP Sushma Swaraj and seconded by Sharad Yadav (JD-U),
who said this was not acceptable.
Expressing concern over the attitude of the Americans,
Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said "the former President was frisked
completely by the airlines. He was even asked to take off his
shoes and socks."
The Congress also said the incident must be probed to find out the reasons why it happened.
"We certainly need to look into it and find out why it happened," Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said it was an unfortunate incident and wondered if it had something to do with Kalam`s name.
With IANS inputs