A skirmish took a deadly turn on June 10 at Kozhikode International Airport in Kerala. A head constable of the Central Industrial Security Force was accidentally shot on head during an altercation between CISF personnel and the airport's fire and rescue department. The incident led to a rampage by the angry CISF men in the airport and the Airport Authority of India staff blocking the runway with their fire tenders.
The impasse was cleared only after several hours, when senior officers from the ministries of civil aviation and home affairs landed in Kozhikode. “Sometimes small altercations do happen at some places with the airport security staff. Such incidents are always resolved in a matter of minutes. But this kind of an incident is unheard of,” said B.B. Dash, joint commissioner of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, an agency under the civil aviation ministry which regulates security guidelines at airports. Dash and his team had rushed to Kozhikode and rounded up about 90 AAI staff to figure out what might have happened.
The CISF, which took over the security of India’s airports after an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked to Kandahar in 1999, too, sees it as a ‘one-off’ incident. “Our personnel are trained at soft skills and such lapses of discipline will not be tolerated,” said a senior CISF officer.
According to an FIR registered by the CISF with the Kerala Police, the fight started when one of the fire service staff did not cooperate with the CISF personnel for the security frisking at the air traffic control gate. “Later, the concerned AAI fire service staff summoned about 15 of his colleagues and started assaulting sub-inspector S.R. Choudhary. In the scuffle, one of the AAI fire service staff snatched the pistol of Choudhary,” said the complaint by the CISF.
Video footage of the scuffle confirms this. The fateful bullet, apparently, was fired while Choudhary was trying to recover his firearm, said a senior CISF official. The bullet first cut off Choudhary’s index finger and hit head constable S.S. Yadav’s head. Yadav, 27, died on the spot. He was from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.
The AAI has also lodged a complaint with the police against the CISF personnel for rioting and destruction of property. Nine CISF men, including Choudhary, have been arrested and remanded to judicial custody. Also, the CISF has transferred 129 of its men from the airport. “Our own enquiry is being conducted and due corrective actions will be taken,” said CISF spokesperson Hemendra Singh.
After the incident, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has renewed its request for a dedicated airport security force and to reduce the cost of security at about 200 airports. That, however, would not be easy. A public assessment of the CISF's airport service, done in 2013 by the home ministry, had rated it highly, giving it 4.49 out of 5. The force conducts regular training for its personnel at the CISF Academy or the Delhi airport. “What remains to be seen is if the government will agree to pay heed to raise the dedicated Airport Security Force,” said civil aviation security expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan. “These forces can be trained to handle different situations like natural disasters, calamities at airports, passenger security and security of property.”