The Delhi High Court Thursday refused to pass an interim order staying the operation of the decision allowing Sikhs to carry kirpans having a blade length of up to six inches while travelling on domestic flights. ”No stay,” said a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad while seeking the stand of the Centre and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the March 4, 2022 notification in this regard.
The bench asked the respondents to file their response to the petition which seeks the constitution of a committee to examine “workable solutions” to ensure that a kirpan permitted to be carried on the flight is “appropriately designed and crafted” and does not have a blade length beyond 4 cm.
The petition by lawyer Harsh Vibhore Singhal said that permitting kirpans on flights, in terms of the presently permissible dimensions, has “dangerous ramifications for aviation safety” and “if kirpans are deemed safe only because of religion, one wonders how knitting/crochet needles, coconuts, screwdrivers, and small pen knives, etc. are deemed hazardous and prohibited”.
“Regardless of a contrary perception, a kirpan remains a blade used in hundreds of homicides with scores of murder cases adjudicated by even the Supreme Court. Thus, kirpans can cause havoc in the skies reducing aviation safety to a nullity,” said the petition challenging the permission accorded to Sikhs to carry kirpans having a blade length of up to six inches while travelling on civilian flights in the country.
The petition contended that the regulatory permission is bad in law, mauls civil aviation safety protocols as well as international conventions, and has been promulgated without application of mind in spite of “historical lessons in aviation hijackings”.
The plea added that the petitioner was “concerned at the whimsical and nonchalant manner” in which the authorities “flippantly and most complacently shrugged off historical lessons surrounding civil aviation safety and security protocols by giving a blanket regulatory approval to the unrestricted and unsupervised carriage of dangerous articles on the person of a certain section of air travellers (based upon religion)”.
“While the exception made for Sikh travellers limits the length of a kirpan to a maximum blade length of 15.24 cms (6”) with a total length of 22.86 cms (9”) including hilt length of 3”, it is silent on the maximum width and thickness of the blade starting at the hilt and tapering gradually till the pointed tip. It is a matter of elementary physics that a blade with narrow width at the base is less lethal in capacity to pierce, chop, cut or slice as compared to thicker broader bases gradually tapering to the pointed tips,” the plea said.
The petition said that all conflicting interests must be balanced and religious freedom under Article 25 of the Constitution and must cede precedence to laws and regulations for preserving public safety and property security.
In a notification dated March 4, 2022, the central government said that Sikh passengers shall have exceptional regulatory sanction to carry kirpans having blade length of not more than 6 inches and total length of not more than 9 inches whilst on board any civilian flight in India that is operating on all domestic routes.
The matter would be heard next on December 15.