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AI lifts ban on Gaikwad, unions protest

New Delhi: Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad, who fell afoul of domestic airlines for assaulting an Air India employee, inviting a blanket ban on his air travel, can fly again, with the national carrier today lifting the restriction after he expressed regret.

In a sudden climbdown after combative Shiv Sena members disrupted Lok Sabha proceedings, the tough-talking MP from Maharashtra’s Osmanabad, had written a letter to Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju yesterday expressing “regret” over the “unfortunate incident”.

He had also virtually given and undertaking that there would be no repeat of the unsavoury incident and sought lifting of the ban.

An Air India spokesperson said the move follows a written order from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The spokesperson said, “AI is committed to ensuring its employees are not assaulted or misbehaved with. We will take strong action to preserve dignity of our employees.”

Aviation sources said that with the AI revoking the ban, private airlines may follow suit.

The revocation of the ban came despite two AI union of the cabin crew and pilots deprecating any move to lift the restrictions imposed on air travel of the MP before he tendered an “unconditional apology” for assaulting R Sukumar, a sexagenarian duty manager of the state-run airline.

“Unless he tenders an unconditional apology to AI employees, and undertakes in writing to abide by the Chicago and Tokyo Conventions & Rules of the Air and follow all cabin safety and public behaviour norms, we must not let him on board,” said the letter from the Air India Cabin Crew Association to its Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani.

It said any decision by either the Ministry of Civil Aviation or Parliament to lift the ban will affect the morale of the employees.

“Ravindra Gaikwad is and will continue to be a risk to flight safety and flight operations and to Cabin Crew safety on board, and hence Government must think long and hard about letting him back on,” the letter added.

The association said it would be a “crying shame” if he is let off “without even a rap on the knuckles”, adding “It would also crush the morale of all employees and indeed all fair minded Indians. We do not wish to be flying such a person.”

The Indian Commercial Pilot’s Association, one of the unions of pilots of Air India, also demanded an “unconditional apology” from the Shiva Sena MP, failing which they threatened to not fly him.

“ICPA strongly condemns his misconduct and demands an unconditional apology for the same, failing which we will be constrained to direct our members not to operate any flight which has Mr Ravindra Gaikwad on board in the interest of the safety and security of our own people,” they wrote in a letter to the Civil Aviation Minister.

Gaikwad had yesterday written to Raju voicing “regret” over the incident but stopped short of tendering an apology.

“It could have been no one’s intention to have let the situation aggravate to the level that it eventually did. While the on-going investigation will bring out the factual sequence of events to fix responsibility, this incident may kindly not be seen as a reason for likely recurrence of such an event in future also,” he said in the letter.

Agitated Shiv Sena MPs had earlier in the day repeatedly forced the House to adjourn amid unruly scenes and even threatened to disrupt Air India operations in Mumbai and Pune.

The party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut had declared the Sena would boycott the April 10 NDA meeting if the ban was not lifted by then.

Gaikwad’s letter to the Civil Aviation Minister followed a meeting in Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s chamber in Parliament yesterday where Shiv Sena MPs were told that if he issued a statement undertaking that he would not engage in any such incident in future, the government could intervene and have the ban revoked.

The Osmanabad MP had assaulted the AI employee on March 23 after he landed here on a Pune-Delhi all-economy flight.

Complaining about not being able to travel business class, Gaikwad repeatedly hit Sukumar with slippers when the latter went to persuade him to disembark after he refused to alight.

Gaikwad later boastfully claimed on TV he had hit the official 25 times with slippers.