NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday posted for September 23 hearing on a batch of petitions seeking directions for a refund of airfare to the passengers, whose flights were cancelled during the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the Central government, that there are some clarifications required and asked the Centre to file an affidavit to make some clarification in the matter.
The bench also granted 10 days time to all parties and stakeholders to file affidavits to the Centre's affidavit and posted the matter for further hearing on September 23.
During the hearing, Solicitor General Mehta told the court that the government has taken a decision which is subject to the Court's final approval. "What we're saying is tickets will have to be refunded. Amount of tickets will have to be refunded," Mehta said.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for the passengers, raised doubts whether air ticket refund proposal of the Ministry of Civil Aviation confines to tickets booked during the lockdown and not before March 23.
"We only want to say relief should not be confined to only those who booked tickets on the first lockdown. Centre's affidavit gives an impression that relief is confined to only those who had booked during the first lockdown," Hegde contended.
He said that relief should be granted to everyone whose flights had been cancelled due to the lockdown. Mehta, on the other hand, said in regards to international flights, a refund can only be given for those that were booked from India.
"If British Airways was booked from London, we don't have the jurisdiction," Mehta said.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for SpiceJet, said that the airline company is in agreement with the Centre's stand and it will comply with the order.
Advocate Neela Gokhale for travel agents federation contended that all their money is lying with the airlines and there is nothing on the affidavit to deal with the travel agents and all of their money is blocked with the airlines. To this, Mehta said that the Centre consulted each and every stakeholder, including travel agents body.
Through an affidavit, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had told the court that tickets booked by passengers in domestic and international carriers for air travel during the first two phases of lockdown -- between March 25 to May 3, 2020 -- will be "fully refunded".
"If the tickets have been booked during the first lockdown period, March 25 to April 14 for the journeys to be undertaken in both first and second lockdown period from March 25 to May 3 in all such cases, a full refund shall be given by the airlines immediately," the affidavit filed by DGCA before the top court stated.
"For all other cases, the airlines shall make all endeavours to refund the collected amount to the passenger within 15 days," it added.
The affidavit was filed on a batch of pleas seeking refund air airfare to passengers whose flights were cancelled during the lockdown. The top court had earlier asked private airlines along with the Ministry of Civil Aviation to find a way out to refund the airfare of passengers.
The DGCA has also said that the "credit shell shall be transferable", adding that the passenger can transfer the credit shell to any person, and the airlines shall honour such a transfer.
"The airlines shall devise a mechanism to facilitate such a transfer. By the end of March 2021, the Airlines shall refund cash to the holder of the credit shell," the DGCA in its affidavit further added.
The Centre has also apprised the apex court that if the tickets have been booked through travel agent during the lockdown period for travel within the lockdown period, a full refund shall be given by the airlines immediately.
This amount shall be passed on immediately by the agent to the passengers. Similar refund conditions apply for international travel via domestic and foreign carriers, it added.
The DGCA, in the affidavit, also said that the policy of the Central government is that every individual passenger has a right to seek a refund of those tickets, the flight for which was cancelled without any fault of his/her.
It stated that non-refund of such fares amount to a violation of provisions of the Civil Aviation Requirements, which is necessary to protect the interest of air passengers.