New Delhi–Air India on Friday lifted its ban on Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad, whose flight bookings had been cancelled repeatedly after he assaulted an officer of the national carrier last month.
Official sources told IANS that the ban was lifted after the Civil Aviation Ministry wrote to the airline, a day after Gaikwad expressed “regrets” over the March 23 incident.
The sources said the Ministry took the decision after the MP assured that such incidents won’t be repeated.
Gaikwad on Thursday apologised in the Lok Sabha for the assault on an airline staffer but defended himself, an ugly situation arose as two Union Ministers got involved in heated exchanges and almost came to blows.
Gaikwad’s party colleagues in the Lok Sabha demanded lifting of the flying ban against him and the party threatened to boycott an April 10 National Democratic Alliance meeting in case the matter was not sorted out at the earliest.
Unhappy with the government response, Union Minister Anant Geete, of the Shiv Sena, questioned how an attempt to murder charge could be slapped against Gaikwad.
Geete and Civil Aviation Minister P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju almost came to blows as the latter maintained that flight safety was paramount. Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Textiles Minister Smriti Irani intervened to save the situation.
As Shiv Sena MPs surrounded Raju, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs S.S. Ahluwalia rushed to his support.
Raju and Geete were subsequently taken to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s chamber where, sources said, the Speaker discussed the issue with them.
Gaikwad, who is facing ban from various airlines from flying after he assaulted an Air India official with his footwear on March 23 after his Pune-Delhi flight landed at the Delhi airport, also wrote a letter to Raju on Thursday requesting the flying ban on him be lifted.
But the national passenger carrier did not remove the ban but sources in the Civil Aviation Ministry said that they are looking into the matter after Gaikwad’s assurance that such incident will not be repeated.
An Air India official told IANS that the airline has beefed up security to protect its employees at Mumbai and Pune following an alleged threat by Shiv Sena to disrupt the company’s operations if the ban is not revoked.
Gaikwad raised the issue of flying ban on him during Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha and demanded it be lifted.
He said he apologises for his behaviour in Parliament but will not do so to the 60-year-old flight official.
Giving his version of the incident, Gaikwad said he was made to travel in economy class despite having a business class ticket. After the Pune-Delhi flight landed, he said, he asked for the complaints register.
“After 45 minutes, an officer came. I talked to him calmly, but he asked: Who are you? I asked him: Who are you? He said he is the ‘father of Air India’. When I said I am a politician, one of them said: ‘But you are not Narendra Modi. Are you?,” said the MP, alleging that the airline staff held him by the collar after which he pushed him.
“I am staring at a ban across all airlines,” Gaikwad said and claimed that the charges against him were “unfounded” and should be taken back.
“If the dignity of Parliament has been hurt, I apologise to Parliament, but not to the officer,” he said.
Gaikwad was backed by Geete, the Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Sector Enterprises.
Raju, however, said safety was paramount in a flight.
“There is a process of law and it will take its own course. When I made submission to the house (earlier), I said it is not an MP, but a passenger. I have nothing to add here.
“If you want to defuse the situation you can; if you want to aggravate the situation, you can. In machines where people fly, safety is important and safety will not be compromised,” he said.
Shiv Sena members protested, after which Speaker Mahajan adjourned the house till 12.45 p.m.
The house was adjourned twice thereafter for 15 minutes each.
Rajnath Singh then promised an amicable solution. “We have reached a conclusion. The Civil Aviation Minister will talk to stakeholders and find out an amicable solution.”
Later, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told reporters there is a conspiracy behind the flying ban and the party will expose it at an appropriate time.
“If separatists, rapists and terrorists are allowed to travel on flights, then why not an MP,” he wondered.
Raut said the government had assured of an amicable solution at the earliest.
He said if flying ban on Gaikwad is not lifted, the party will boycott the meeting of National Democratic Alliance meeting on April 10.
Meanwhile, the airlines unions supported the company and its Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani.
Union representing employees of all airlines and airport operators – the Federation of All India Aviation (FAIA) also said that it will not allow any disruption in Air India’s operations at Mumbai and Pune. (IANS)