June 20: After Jetlite (previously known as Air Sahara) officials refused to take on board 34-year-old wheelchair-borne Rajiv Rajan without an escort on Monday, the debate on the need to sensitize private airlines to the rights of the disabled has triggered nationwide.
The passenger, 34-year-old Rajiv Rajan, working with an NGO called Vidyasagar, was due to fly to New Delhi on Monday morning to attend a meeting of the National Trust, a body under the ministry of social justice and empowerment, that works for disabled persons. The directorate-general of civil aviation (DGCA), the regulator in the civil aviation sector, has sought an explanation from the airline Jetlite (known till now as Air Sahara) for its refusal to board Rajiv Rajan.
"Cerebral palsy is a condition and not an illness. Those affected by cerebral palsy do not have control over their muscles. It does not mean that these persons are unwell and unfit to travel by air," said Abidi, Disabled Rights Group convenor. "Air Sahara has treated Rajan shabbily and should immediately apologise to him, besides giving him compensation," he added.
About 100 physically challenged persons today formed a human chain in front of the domestic airport in Chennai in protest of refusal by a private airline's to allow a cerebral palsy victim to board the aircraft without an escort. They were holding placards, most of them in wheelchairs, held a peaceful protest by forming the human chain for nearly 90 minutes.
They demanded equal rights and urged the government to put an end to discrimination against the disabled.
"We've been facing discrimination from various airlines and Monday's incident was the height of it. It not only violated human rights, but also the International Civil Aviation rules," said Smitha, Assistant Coordinator - Vidyasagar, an NGO which organised the agitation.
"We want to make this issue a national movement against discrimination on the grounds of disability and are also planning to file a Public Interest Litigation against the Civil Aviation Ministry," she added.
However Jetlite in its defence came up with a different story, stated as “His (Mr. Rajan’s) driver requested for a wheelchair and left him without advising any details to the staff on duty. The duty officer attending to him (Mr. Rajan), on seeing his condition in the wheelchair, enquired whether he had any attendant with him or was in possession of a fitness certificate which was required for his travel. On the inability of Rajan to explain the situation to the duty officer, he was advised that he was not in a fit condition to travel on the flight. Unfortunately, Rajan seemed upset and started rolling on the floor and was unable to give any additional information,"
According to Jetlite it had been guided by the medical manual of the International Air Travel Association (IATA) in refusing Rajan’s entry. "Air travel for passengers who need care is guided by Section 6 of the IATA Medical Manual, which requires medical clearance if the passenger is (either) incapable of caring for himself or requires special assistance, has a medical condition that may be adversely affected by the flight environment, (or) is considered to be a potential hazard to the safety of the flight, including the possibility of diversion of the flight or an unscheduled landing," Jetlite stated.
Head of the National Trust, Poonam Natarajan, said that the trust would definitely take up the matter with the social justice ministry. Rajiv Rajan was travelling to New Delhi to attend a subcommittee meeting of the National Trust to decide on the issue of imparting training to persons with disabilities.
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