A worker sweeps a puddle as Air India’s first freighter aircraft is displayed near a hangar prior to its inaugural flight in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg News)

Sexual Harassment Case: Delhi High Court Asks Air India To Replace Panel Chief On Air Hostess’ Complaint

The Delhi High Court has asked Air India to replace the chairperson of its panel looking into the sexual harassment allegations by an air hostess against one of the carrier’s senior officials, following which the national carrier agreed to bring in a new person.

The complainant had claimed that the panel chairperson was close to the official who has been accused of misconduct. Air India agreed to replace the chairperson of its internal complaints committee after the high court made it clear that it would otherwise stay the proceedings before the panel.

"The counsel for respondent 1 (Air India) states that if petitioner has any apprehension against current chairperson of the ICC, respondent 1 shall without going into the apprehension and in the petitioner's interest, appoint another eminent lady as the chairperson of the ICC," Justice Vibhu Bakhru said.

"What happens when you find a person in the ICC is conflicted? You replace the person, but only for that matter," the court told Air India on Friday. The order and the observations by the court came on the air hostess' plea, filed through advocate Sanjoy Ghose, challenging the constitution of the second ICC on the ground that the lady heading it was a close friend of the official accused of sexual harassment.

Ghose argued that the head of the ICC had promoted the accused official and, therefore, the petitioner apprehended that the proceedings might not be conducted fairly.

Iher plea, the woman cited several instances where the accused official allegedly used derogatory language against her as well as other women employees.n

She claimed that in 2015, she had brought the issue to the attention of the then chairman and managing director of the airline, but no action was taken on her complaint. This year she wrote to Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu and after his intervention, an ICC was constituted, the complainant submitted.

However, this panel did not conduct proceedings for nearly six months and did not give her sufficient time to address her case, the petition said, adding that her pleas to reconstitute the first ICC were not heeded to by the airline.

Thereafter, she wrote to Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and after her intervention, the second panel was formed in June this year, but it was headed by a person close to the accused official, the plea said.

Also read: IATA Chief Questions Prospective Investor’s Leeway In Running Air India