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Air India urination: Experts seek harsher punishments for unruly behaviour on flights

Air India urination: Experts seek harsher punishments for unruly behaviour on flights
Air India's handling of an incident in which an inebriated male flier allegedly urinated on a woman co-passenger suggests an urgent need for stricter rules to deal with unruly passengers, according to legal and aviation experts. Instances of inappropriate conduct on flights have gone up in the recent past because airlines try to cover up such incidents due to their commercial interests, the experts said.

According to police, the male passenger, Shankar Mishra, allegedly urinated on a woman co-passenger in her 70s in the business class of the Air India flight from New York to Delhi on November 26 last year.

Delhi Police registered an FIR against him on January 4 on a complaint given by the woman to Air India and arrested him from Bengaluru on Saturday.

To prevent such incidents in future, the experts said, the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) of 2017 for handling of unruly passengers should be amended.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) framed the rules in 2017 after the then Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulted an Air India staff member. Under these rules, unruly behaviour by a passenger onboard a flight is a punishable offence.

Supreme Court lawyer Ujjawal Anand Sharma said lodging an FIR in all cases of unruly behaviour by passengers onboard flights should be made compulsory under CAR, 2017.

"I think there is a need to amend it (CAR, 2017) and make it compulsory to lodge an FIR in all cases of unruly behaviour onboard (flights) irrespective of the level of seriousness (of the offence)," said Sharma, who had represented stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra in the alleged unruly behaviour case in the Delhi High Court.

Sharma, who is also a Partner at Lawmen & White law firm, said, "It should be made part of the SoP (standard operating procedure) to inform the local police after the aircraft lands. Also, I believe that instead of an internal committee of an airline, there should be an independent committee under the DGCA which should be informed about every case of unruly behaviour."

This will also help airlines avoid allegations of hushing up the matter.

According to CAR, 2017, the captain and the crew of a flight are supposed to inform the airline about a passenger's unruly behaviour once the aircraft lands at its destination airport. The airline will present the case before its internal committee which comprises a retired district session judge and two independent members.

"Pending decision of the Internal Committee, the concerned airline may ban such unruly passenger from flying, but such period may not exceed a period of 30 days," the rules state.

According to the rules, "The Internal Committee shall give the final decision in 30 days by giving the reasons in writing. The decision of the Internal Committee shall be binding on the airline concerned. In case the Internal Committee fails to take a decision in 30 days, the passenger will be free to fly."

CAR, 2017 grades offences into three categories and once the internal committee decides the level of offence and imposes a ban on the passenger, the decision has to be communicated to the DGCA/other airlines and the person should be put on the no-fly list.

Such a passenger can be banned for a minimum of three months in case of a level 1 offence and a maximum of two years for a level 3 offence.

The rules necessitate lodging an FIR only in extreme cases of aggressive behaviour by a passenger which may cause the aircraft to make an emergency landing.

Nishant Kr. Srivastava, a criminal lawyer and Founder of Actus Legal Associates & Advocates, said an unruly passenger should be barred from flying with any airline till the inquiry is pending.

"The present norms say that an unruly passenger will be banned from flying for 30 days till the Internal Committee of that particular airline decides his/her case. Meanwhile, he can fly with other airlines. It should be made more deterrent by banning him from flying with any airline," he said.

Mohit Chand Mathur, a senior advocate in the Delhi High Court, underlined the need for timely implementation of the existing legal provisions to avoid a repeat of such incidents.

On January 5, the DGCA pulled up the Tata Group-owned Air India, saying prima facie it emerges that provisions related to handling of unruly passengers were not complied with. It said Air India's conduct appeared to be "unprofessional".

A US-based doctor who was seated next to the accused spoke out about the November 26 incident, alleging the flight crew showed "no compassion" and failed in their responsibility on several counts as they made the woman talk to the man after his "indecent exposure" and she was made to go back to her soiled seat.

Aviation professionals also stressed the need for stricter punishment to bring down instances of unruly behaviour by passengers.

"It is the responsibility of the government and the industry to impose and implement strict rules against such offenders," said Sharad Kumar, director, Chennai Airport.

Crew members should be better trained to handle such situations, he said.

"The male passenger (who urinated on his co-passenger on the Air India flight) should be banned across airports. He should not be allowed to enter any airport for at least a year," said industry expert R Ramkumar.

Air India has issued show cause notices to four cabin crew and one pilot of its New York-Delhi flight and de-rostered them pending investigation.

The airline's CEO and Managing Director Campbell Wilson said on Sunday that "we fell short of addressing this situation the way we should have".

He said the airline will "review and repair every process to prevent or address any incidents of such unruly nature".

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