The head of India’s Tata Sons conglomerate has expressed “anguish” over an incident in which a drunk man allegedly urinated on a female passenger on one of their flights.
The incident took place in late November on a Tata-run Air India flight. But it was reported only last week when the woman filed a complaint.
The news led to massive outrage in India with criticism of how Air India handled the incident. The man was arrested over the weekend. He was also fired from his job at US banking firm Wells Fargo.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran said the airline should have been swifter in its response. “We will review and repair every process to prevent or address any incidents of such unruly nature,” he said.
His statement came a day after Air India chief executive Campbell Wilson expressed “regret” and “pain” over its customers suffering due to “the condemnable acts of their co-passengers”.
The incident took place on 26 November in the business class cabin of a New York-Delhi flight. The accused Shankar Mishra was allegedly drunk when he apparently urinated on one of his co-passengers, a 72-year-old woman.
“My clothes, shoes and bag were completely soaked in urine,” the woman wrote in her complain to Mr Chandrasekaran the next day.
The woman said she asked the crew for a change of seat, but was told that nothing was available and was instead offered a small seat used by staff. She alleged that the crew also brought the man to her – against her wishes – so he could apologise.
The woman described the flight as the most “traumatic” of her life, and said that the airline only issued her a partial refund of her ticket. Her account was supported by a US doctor named Sugata Bhattacharjee, who was sitting next to Mr Mishra on the flight.
He told news channel NDTV that he had also written a complaint to Air India on the day of the incident, but “it went nowhere”.
After the incident, Air India formed an internal committee to investigate the complaint against Mr Mishra.
Two weeks later, it imposed a 30-day interim travel ban on him – the length of the ban was among the factors that generated outrage once the news broke.
On the request of the woman’s family, the airline finally filed a police complaint regarding the incident on 28 December.
A week later, it submitted a report to India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Last week, the DGCA issued notices to the officials and crew of the flight, saying they had not complied with its rules for handling an unruly passenger on board. It also said the crew’s conduct had been “unprofessional”.
Air India has since de-rostered a pilot and four member of the cabin crew.
In his statement, Mr Wilson promised a robust reporting system for unruly behaviour on Air India.
On Friday, Wells Fargo issued a statement saying it had terminated Mr Mishra and “was co-operating with law enforcement”.
Mr Mishra was arrested in Bangalore (also known as Bengaluru) on Saturday and charged with offences including sexual harassment and public misconduct. He was then brought to Delhi and produced before a local court, which sent him to judicial custody for 14 days.
Before his arrest, Mr Mishra had issued a statement through his lawyer, where he said that he had got the woman’s bags and clothes cleaned two days after the incident.
“The lady’s persisting grievance was only with respect to the adequate compensation being paid by the airline for which she has raised a subsequent complaint on December 20, 2022,” the statement said.
It added that “the statements recorded before the inquiry committee by the cabin crew show that there is no eyewitness to the incident and all the statements are merely hearsay evidence”.
“The accused has full faith in the judicial system of the country and will co-operate with the investigation process,” the statement added.