SC asks Centre to set up high-level panel to assess effects of aircraft fumigation on passengers
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked 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 pleas against the National Green Tribunal’s ban on spraying of disinfectants and pesticides in aircraft, 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.
A bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee asked the Centre to constitute a high-level committee of experts, which may include a representative from airlines, within two weeks.
“With regard to the nature of the issue and in the context of public health… we consider it appropriate that the Union of India constitute a high powered committee of experts to assess the harmful and hazardous effects of fumigation and the issue of of policy which needs to be examined…,” the bench said.
It asked the Centre to apprise it about constitution of the committee in two weeks.
Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, said that the ministries of Health and Family Welfare, and Civil Aviation have said that spraying of disinfectant was not harmful in an aircraft loaded with passengers.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who has been appointed amicus curiae in the case, told the bench that there were two kind of disinfectants/pesticides which were used in aircraft generally.
“One of the disinfectants has immediate effect and the second one has lesser effect. There are reports which say that these disinfectant are not harmful,” she said.
Advocate Saurabh Kripal, appearing for Interglobe Aviation Ltd (Indigo Airlines), said that spraying of disinfectants/pesticides was stopped after the order of National Green Tribunal (NGT).
To this, the bench said that it was a policy decision and it would be better if the Centre constitutes a high-level committee of experts to take a call on the harmful effects of disinfectants/pesticides.
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 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.