NEW DELHI, Mar 20: A 72-year-old woman, whose ordeal on an Air India flight in November when a co-passenger allegedly urinated on her had made headlines, has moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction to aviation regulator DGCA and airlines to frame SOPs to deal with such incidents.
The woman said she was constrained to approach the court because Air India and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) failed to treat her with care and responsibility after the incident.
“In addition, the wide-ranging national press reportage full of conjecture and surmises has severely undermined the petitioner’s rights as a victim under Article 21 of the Constitution, and in fairness has also affected the rights of the accused as well.
“Their rights to a free and fair trial have also been substantially affected due to a selective leaking of the ‘AIR SEWA’ complaint of the petitioner, the FIR and selective witness statements being released to the media to match specific narratives,” she said in her plea.
The petition said an absence of clear guidelines for media outlets on what requires reporting, whether they ought to make conjectures where matters are sub-judice, and the impact of media coverage based on unverified statements end up impacting the victim as well as the accused.
The petitioner further said her intentions were inspired and motivated in the interest of the general public and are a sincere attempt to set up a framework within the airline industry so that such incidents are prevented, and if they do occur, they are dealt with in a manner that does not cause additional trauma to the passengers.
She also sought a direction to the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and the DGCA to ensure that Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) norms adhere to the highest standards laid down internationally.
The woman sought directions to the DGCA and the airline companies to comply with the legal requirements of the SOPs, operation manuals and reporting protocols to be followed by airline crew and staff.
Referring to the incident, she said, it “caused the petitioner to go into shock and distress during this 12-hour long flight and the crew was both unhelpful and uncooperative”.
The plea said that the suffering of the woman was significantly compounded as the crew coerced her to enter a “settlement” with the passenger who urinated on her.
“She continues to deal with the trauma of the incident”, the plea said.
She alleged that during the incident and after it, there have been multiple violations by Air India including the cabin crew as they facilitated the handing over of her phone number to the passenger who had urinated on her in order to reimburse the cost of shoes, dry-cleaning, etc.
It said that the cabin crew initially asked the petitioner to sit on the very same seat that was wet and smelled of urine and they did not offer her alternative accommodation for over two hours, even though there were seats available on the aircraft.
“The petitioner was told that the pilot in-command had not sanctioned the use of fresh seat for the petitioner as the pilot was sleeping”, the plea said.
While the petitioner was shocked and disturbed by the incident and had unequivocally told the crew that she had no intention of meeting the perpetrator, the cabin crew brought the perpetrator to the petitioner, where he attempted to apologize to the petitioner, it said.
She said, “At this stage, the cabin crew actively coerced a settlement between the petitioner and the perpetrator”.
Citing several counts of violations, the woman alleged that the response from Air India has been tardy and insensitive, with selective leaks to the press about various aspects including witness testimony so that those responsible for institutional protocols not being in place are protected.
Referring to the Aircraft Act, 1934 and Rules of 1937, the woman said that the provisions deal with acts by any person on board an aircraft that constitute assault, damage to property of any passenger or consumption of alcohol which can lead to jeopardizing other passengers as offences which are to be dealt with very firmly.
“Section 5 of the Aircraft Act, 1934 provides for directions to be issued by the DGCA in order to ensure compliance with the various norms laid down in the Act and the Rules.
“Rule 133A provides specifically for the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) which are laid down and revised from time to time that are norms to ensure compliance with various rules”, the plea said.
The petition also referred to various other incidents like ruckus by inebriated passengers, smoking in the lavatory and urination on co-passengers, which had happened in Air India flights from 2014 onwards.
“In stark contrast, just last week on March 4, 2023, when an inebriated passenger on American Airlines flight AA292 from New York to New Delhi urinated on a fellow passenger who was similarly unsure of escalating matters, American Airlines followed protocols.
“It reported the matter to Air Traffic control which alerted CISF which intimated the Delhi police who took the passenger into custody on disembarking”, the woman’s plea said.
On January 31, a Delhi court granted bail to Shankar Mishra, accused of urinating on the woman co-passenger on the Air India flight from New York to Delhi.
The trial court had granted the relief to Mishra on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and a surety of the like amount.
It had also imposed various conditions on him, including that he will not tamper with evidence, influence any witnesses or contact them in any manner.
Mishra was also asked not to leave the country without the court’s prior permission and to join the investigation and trial as and when called by the investigating officer (IO) or the concerned court.
Mishra was arrested from Bengaluru on January 6 and sent to judicial custody by a court here on January 7.
He allegedly urinated on the woman in an intoxicated condition in the business class of the Air India flight on November 26 last year. (PTI)