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    Middle Seat Row: After SC's taunt, govt says citizens' health of paramount importance

    aviation | IST

    Middle Seat Row: After SC's taunt, govt says citizens' health of paramount importance

    The government on Wednesday responded to the Supreme Court’s remarks over the middle seat row in flights, saying that for the Centre, the health of citizens was of “paramount importance”.
    The government was responding to the court as it heard a plea from Air India seeking relaxations for operating the Vande-Bharat flights to bring back stranded passengers.
    The government also briefed the court that the issue of allowing seating on middle rows is currently being deliberated on. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the government had formed an expert committee and that it would consider all aspects before making recommendations to the Centre.
    The Supreme Court, however, refused to offer any relaxations in its previous orders. The SC had earlier directed that Vande-Bharat flights can continue with middle row seating till June 6.
    The SC noted that any further orders would add to confusion. The court also observed that while it wasn’t entirely pleased with flying back Indians on flights that allowed middle row seating, it would allow for these non-scheduled flights till June 6.
    The SC said that the onus of deciding the issue was with the Bombay HC and that it should be trusted to make a final decision. The Bombay HC will take up the case of middle row seating on June 2.
    On May 25, the SC had expressed its displeasure at the government allowing passengers to be seated in middle rows. The court had reprimanded the Centre for allowing flight operations while allowing bookings on middle seats in flights. The SC had also cautioned the govt that it should be more concerned about the health of its citizens rather than the health of airlines.
    The SC had, on May 25, widened the scope of the issue to all flights -- international and domestic -- and aimed at the govt while observing that it was common sense to ensure that social distancing is maintained. The SC noted that sitting shoulder to shoulder in flights could be dangerous.
    The SC also nudged the administration to discontinue middle row seating, even for domestic flights, with the court order clarifying that Director General of Civil Aviation is “free to alter any norms, during the pendency of the matter, in the interest of public health and safety of passengers, rather than commercial considerations.”
    SC had also sarcastically questioned the govt, “Will the virus know it's on a plane and is not supposed to infect?”
    SC had, by the May 25 order, directed the Bombay HC to decide on the issue while directing it to arrive at a “prima facie finding regarding the safety and health of the passengers” irrespective of whether the flight is a scheduled or unscheduled one.
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