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Supreme Court orders Spicejet to pay Rs. 10 lakh for forcibly de-boarding cerebral palsy passenger

In a strongly worded judgment, the Supreme Court today ordered Spicejet Limited to pay Rs. 10 lakh as damages to Jeeja Ghosh, a passenger suffering from cerebral palsy.

Ghosh was forcibly de-boarded while flying from Kolkata to Goa in 2012.

The judgment was delivered by a Bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and RK Agarwal.

Jeeja Ghosh is a disabled rights activist and a Board member of the National Trust. In 2012, she was invited to an international conference in Goa. After boarding the plane at Kolkata airport, she was approached by members of the flight crew who requested to see her boarding pass, which she gave them.

They then 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 flight captain had insisted that she be removed due to her disability.

Ghosh moved the Supreme Court under Article 32 claiming violation of fundamental rights under Article 14 and 21.

She submitted that the incident caused great shock and trauma, and also forced her to miss the conference. Ghosh also said that continues to be haunted by the incident when she was pulled out of the plane like a criminal.

In her petition, she also sought the introduction of a system so that other differently abled persons do not suffer the kind of agony she had to suffer.Her petition also alleges that the behaviour by the airline crew was outrageous and clearly violated ‘Civil Aviation Requirements' dated 1st May, 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.

The Bench after hearing the parties, dealt at length with the sufferings faced by disabled persons.

Quoting from the book "No Pity" by Joseph P Shapiro, the court set forth the problems faced by disabled persons.

"The general feeling is that these 'invalid people' are incapable of doing anything in life. They are burden on the society which the society bear. Of course, they sympathize with disabled persons. They may even want to willingly bear the burden. They may help them financially or otherwise. However, what they do not understand is the feeling of the people with Writ Petition (C) No. 382 of 2014 Page 50 of 54 disabilities. Disabled people no longer see their physical or mental limitations as a source of shame or as something to overcome in order to inspire others.

What non-disabled people do not understand is that people with disabilities also have some rights, hopes and aspirations as everyone else. They do not want to depend on others. They want to brave their disabilities. They want to prove to the world at large that notwithstanding their disabilities they can be the master of their own lives. They can be independent. "

The Court said that disabled persons are treated as objects of pity but there is not effort to assimilate them "in mainstream of the nation's life".

"It is the common experience of several persons with disabilities that they are unable to lead a full life due to societal barriers and discrimination faced by them in employment, access to public spaces, transportation etc. Persons with disability are most neglected lot not only in the society but also in the family. More often they are an object of pity. There are hardly any meaningful attempts to assimilate them in the mainstream of the nation's life. The apathy towards their problems is so pervasive that even the number of disabled persons existing in the country is not well documented. "

The court then slammed the airlines for acting in a callous manner and held that they had violated the CAR Guidelines of 2008.

It, therefore, ordered the Airlines to pay Rs. 10 lakh as damages to Ghosh.

"A little care, a little sensitivity and a little positive attitude on the part of the officials of the airlines would not have resulted in the trauma, pain and suffering that Jeeja Ghosh had to undergo. This has resulted in violation of her human dignity and, thus, her fundamental right, though by a private enterprise (respondent No.3).

On our finding that respondent No.3 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 and also unreasonable discrimination against her, we award a sum of Rs. 10,00,000 as damages to be payable to her by respondent No.3 within a period of two months from today."

The Court also suggested amendments to the CAR, 2014 in the light of the suggestions made by the petitioner based on a report of the Ashok Kumar Committee.

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