NEW DELHI: A septuagenarian woman, who allegedly faced urinating incident by an inebriated passenger in an international flight, has approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to develop an explicit zero- tolerance policy with respect to "unruly/disruptive behaviour".
She sought a direction for mandatory reporting to such incidents to the regulator and the law enforcement, failing which action would be taken against the airlines in all cases.
The victim contended there has been a sharp rise in unruly passenger behaviour globally, as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published a report in December 2022 urging governments to take practical approaches regarding identifying and handling unruly passengers.
Her plea contended the Civil Aviation Requirements of May 2017 (CAR) of the DGCA should consider "drunkenness" or "inebriation" on its own to be considered unruly/ disruptive behaviour on an aircraft.
"The DGCA, via CAR dated May 2017, has laid out guidelines for the handling of unruly/disruptive passengers. However, it does not have an explicit zero-tolerance policy with respect to "unruly/ disruptive behaviour". Also, these guidelines do not consider being drunk or inebriated on its own as unruly disruptive behaviour," the plea filed by advocate Rahul Narayan, drawn by advocate Tanya Srivastava and settled by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan states.
The woman also said the Union government and the DGCA should solicit the Standard Operating Procedures and the Operations Manuals as required under law from the airline companies laying down procedures for handling unruly / disruptive behaviour in airports and on aircraft, and to ensure that those are in compliance with the DGCA normsm
She also submitted by a writ petition, that the authorities should frame the guidelines on alcohol policy on international flights of Indian carriers to protect passengers and airline staff, including setting limits on the quantity of alcohol served, without any discrimination based on the class of travel.
Her plea also said the DGCA should amend its Passenger Charter to include the rights and recourse for passengers subject to any sort of abuse by staff passengers, which should include redressal mechanisms for victims via an Ombudsman and also parameters of compensation.
"There are currently no transparent mechanisms for recourse or system of fines and penalties when an airline is negligent or complicit when there is an incident of unruly disruptive behaviour," she said.
"There are also multiple barriers to filing and following through with complaints for passengers who are victims of unruly behavior because of lack of cooperation and responsiveness from airlines, fear of unwanted media publicity, uncertainty about the nature of penalties for perpetrators, and out of pocket costs for legal and travel expenses," she added.
She said News Broadcasters and Digital Association and all news and media entities and agencies should desist from reporting on the criminal proceedings involving the perpetrator and the petitioner in her case pending before Patiala House Court, New Delhi and arising from the FIR registered at Indira Gandhi International Airport Police Station on January 4, 2023, in order to prevent further shaming and embarrassment for her and the perpetrator, and to ensure that victims are not deterred from reporting such incidents in the future and witnesses are not deterred from coming forward.
"This Court in the past has taken cognizance of the fact that excessive media reporting is prejudicial to the conduct of a free and fair trial and has postponed media coverage and reporting of trials where there is a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice. Due to the excessive nature of the media coverage of the incident and selective outrage by the public, all parties affected due to the incident, have faced different levels of harassment by media outlets which has resulted either in suspension from their jobs or termination," she said.
Due to an ever-increasing media presence and constant need for updates, there is a blurred boundary over the coverage of such incidents. In competition for a better coverage and exclusive reports, media outlets report first and fact-check later. Due to lack of governing rules or guidelines, media outlets have gotten a free pass on coverage of incidents, without realising the repercussions and rights of a party are gravely affected under Article 21, she stated.
For the November 26, 2022 incident, accused Shankar Mishra was arrested from Bengaluru on January 6. The court had denied the police custodial interrogation of the accused.
He was also sacked from the post of Vice President of American financial services company Wells Fargo, which called the allegations against him as “deeply disturbing”.
Delhi police lodged an FIR against Mishra under Sections 354 (molestation), 354 (A), 509 (insulting a woman’s modesty), 510 (misconduct in public by a drunken person), 294 (using obscene words) of the IPC and section 23 of the Aircraft Act for peeing on the woman in the business class of the flight. The accused was subsequently granted bail.