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Aircraft fumigation: Centre sets up expert panel, SC seeks report in 3 months

PTI     July 16, 2019

New Delhi, Jul 16 (PTI) The Centre informed the Supreme Court Tuesday that it has constituted a high-powered 8-member expert panel to ascertain the benefits and hazards of spraying insecticides or fumigation in aircraft with passengers on board. The top court gave three months till October 31 to the panel to submit final report and suggest interim measures at the earliest. A bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee was informed by the Centre's counsel that a notification on the modalities and working of the high-powered panel will be issued during the week. As per the note submitted by the Centre, the eight member panel include -- Principal Advisor (Public Health), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Chairman); Director of National Centre for Disease Control (Member); Director of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (Member); Representative of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (Member) and Head of Epidemiology & Communicable Disease of Indian Council of Medical Research (Member). The other three members are National Professional Officer, International Health Regulation, WHO (Member); Airport Health Officer, Delhi (Member), and Deputy Assistant Director General (International Health) as Member Secretary. The Centre's note further said that the panel will take a considered decision and inform the top court. Senior advocate Saurabh Kripal, appearing for Interglobe Aviation Ltd (Indigo Airlines) and others, said that as it was a Monsoon season, some interim measures needed to be taken. The bench said it was a policy decision the Centre has to take, but the high-powered panel may suggest some interim measures as early as possible. "After the Committee suggests some interim measures on the issue, the Centre may file an application before the court to enable passing of appropriate orders," the bench said. The top court had on July 2 directed the Centre to constitute within two weeks a high-level committee of experts to ascertain whether spraying insecticides or fumigation to ward off mosquitoes in aircraft was harmful for passengers. The court, which was hearing a pleas against the National Green Tribunal's ban on spraying of disinfectants and pesticides in aircraft had said that it was not in favour of a blanket restriction and may allow it on some routes where mosquito problem was prevalent after the committee submits its report. The ministry of health and family welfare told the top court that spraying of disinfectants was not harmful and it was in accordance with guidelines of World Health Organisation (WHO). The Centre had earlier said that the ministries of Health and Family Welfare, and Civil Aviation have said that spraying of disinfectant was not harmful in an aircraft with passengers on board. Indigo Airlines have contended that spraying of disinfectants/pesticides was stopped after the order of National Green Tribunal (NGT). The apex court had on March 15 termed it as an issue of importance and appointed senior advocate Meenakshi Arora as amicus curiae in the matter. The green tribunal which had banned spraying of insecticides or fumigation had initiated proceedings on an e-mail written by a US-based neurologist Dr Jai Kumar. Kumar had contended that spraying of pesticides on planes with chemicals like phenothrin, an organo-phosphorus neurotoxin, was injurious to human health as their use carries risk of causing cancer and auto-immune diseases like lupus, Parkinson's disease and memory loss. Kumar had claimed that while all other airlines have stopped spraying of pesticides, this practice is prevalent in Indian airlines. Indigo Airlines, which has moved the apex court after NGT refused to accept its several pleas for fumigation of aircraft, has contended that the airports which are most affected by mosquito problems are -- Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, Delhi, Guwahati, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Jaipur, Pune, Bengaluru, Dehradun and Bhubaneswar. It had said there was a spiralling growth in dengue and malaria cases with the onset of Monsoon season and due to the "blanket ban", they were not able to take any step for protection and safety of passengers. The airline had said Monsoon was a critical season as there was a sudden spurt in dengue and malaria cases because weather conditions were conducive for mosquito-breeding. It has stated that the airline has already received numerous complaints from flyers, some of whom have even filed cases against the company in the consumer fora. PTI MNL SA

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