Air India’s insistence on security scanning of mortal remains causing distress: Community leaders

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Updated: September 29, 2020 2:52 PM

Government officials, familiar with the process of transportation of mortal remains and airport security in the US, have said that Air India is the only airline to be insisting upon security scanning of mortal remains.

The flight will be now operated on Delhi-Wuhan-Delhi sector.

Air India’s insistence on the mandatory security scanning of mortal remains before transporting it back to India has been causing distress, with community leaders ruing that the process at times is insensitive to their religious and cultural values.

Government officials, familiar with the process of transportation of mortal remains and airport security in the US, have said that Air India is the only airline to be insisting upon security scanning of mortal remains. ”Except for Air India, no other airline does this scanning,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity, adding that there is no such mandatory provision in federal manuals and American airport security protocols.

A significantly large number of Indians wear rings in their fingers or jewellery, mostly in case of women, which because of religious and cultural reasons are not removed after death. As a result, the mortal remains of the deceased gives a security alert during the scanning process.

In most of these cases, Air India security officials insist that they be removed, for which the body is taken back to the funeral home to do the needful like the removal of rings or other jewellery.

In some cases, it has come to the notice that Air India security officials insist on removing a dhoti or a saree (ethnic wear), which many times are gold-plated or carry some metals, before it can be allowed to be transported through the cargo section of the plane. This many a times has resulted in a delay in transportation and also comes with an additional cost of keeping the body in mortuary.

”This is nothing less than shocking that our own Air India does things that are religious and culturally insensitive,” said US-based social activist Prem Bhandari, who has written a letter to the Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola on the issue.

”On reaching out to the local authorities in DHS (Department of Homeland Security), I was surprised to learn that the US does not mandate TSA (Transportation and Security Administration) to scan any human remains in cases of death due to natural causes for any destination country or airline,” Bhandari said.

In his letter, followers of Swami Pratyagbodhananda, vice president of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Pennsylvania, had some harrowing experience at the Newark International Airport in New Jersey last week. Without going into details, the Gurukulam had expressed its deep disappointment over the process being followed in transportation of human remains by Air India.

The Gurukulam management followed the due process and arranged a registered funeral home which are regulated and authorised by the DHS to handle shipment of human remains. The body along with all requisite documentation, embalming among others reached the AI cargo department.

The TSA followed procedure of Air India and scanned the remains, but put a hold on the transport of the mortal remains of the spiritual guru due to security scan showing some concerns related to the attire on the body, Bhandari said.

In his letter, Bhandari demanded the abolition of such a policy set up by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, at least for natural death cases occurring in the US. The TSA accepts and allows mortal remains coming from a known shipper, a term used for registered funeral homes in the US, which are regularly audited and checked by the federal and local government.

Incidentally, the Air India Cargo operations manual, which was updated last on July 1, 2019, makes no reference to the security scanning of mortal remains. It requires six documents, including death certificate; cremation certificate (if as ashes); embalming certificate (if in coffin); a must police certificate if the death is unnatural.

In the case of international carriage, Air India requires cancelled passport; and consular certificate (from the office of the Consular of the nationality of the deceased). ”The current process, reflective of red-tapism, causes a lot of harassment to the family members of deceased. For instance, cancellation of passport takes time in the US. This is an unnecessary provision, should be done away with along with removing the mandatory screening of mortal remains,” Bhandari added.

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