Comedian Kunal Kamra has sent a legal notice to IndiGo, demanding a public apology, Rs 25 lakh for "causing mental pain and agony" and revocation of a six-month ban imposed on Wednesday for heckling a prominent TV channel editor, according to news agency PTI. Mr Kamra's lawyer asked the airline to "pay compensation... on account of mental pain and agony suffered by my client as well as losses incurred on account of cancellation of his scheduled shows and programmes".
Mr Kamra, a Mumbai-based stand-up comic known for his sharply critical views against the government and government-friendly media networks, was banned after he posted a video of his encounter with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV. In the video, he is seen throwing questions at Mr Goswami, who doesn't respond.
Three other airlines, including national carrier Air India, rushed to follow IndiGo's ban after Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri urged them to; the other two being SpiceJet and GoAir.
Two others - Vistara and AirAsia - are said to be considering a ban as well.
"Offensive behaviour designed to provoke & create disturbance inside an aircraft is absolutely unacceptable and endangers safety of air travellers. We are left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned," Mr Puri had tweeted.
All airlines tagged Mr Puri in their tweets announcing their compliance.
@MoCA_GoI@HardeepSPuri In light of the recent incident on board 6E 5317 from Mumbai to Lucknow, we wish to inform that we are suspending Mr. Kunal Kamra from flying with IndiGo for a period of six months, as his conduct onboard was unacceptable behaviour. 1/2— IndiGo (@IndiGo6E) January 28, 2020
However, the ban was swiftly criticised by many, who pointed out the "hypocrisy" in banning Mr Kamra while allowing high-profile passengers - like BJP MP Pragya Thakur - to escape without punishment.
The ban has also been criticised as a violation of due process in such cases, with sources in the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) saying normal procedure on receipt of a complaint was to form an internal committee, within 30 days, to probe the matter.
The decision taken by the committee can be appealed against in an appellate body of the Civil Aviation Ministry and a court. Meanwhile, only a 30-day ban can be imposed.
However, on Thursday the captain of the IndiGo flight wrote to the airline's management, saying he was not consulted before the ban was placed.
"I was disheartened to learn my airline has taken action in this case on the basis of social media posts, with no consultation whatsoever with the pilot-in-command. This is somewhat unprecedented in my nine years of flying," the letter by Captain Rahul Mateti said.
He said that Mr Kamra's behaviour "while unsavoury, was not qualifying of a Level 1 unruly passenger" and that he did not find the events reportable in any way. "Pilots can attest to incidents which were similar and/or worse in nature that were not deemed unruly," he added.
News agency PTI quoted IndiGo as saying they "have received the relevant statements and the internal committee has initiated the investigation regarding this incident."
According to the DGCA there are three categories in the list of passengers banned from flying.
With input from PTI
The first of these, which appears be closest to the Civil Aviation Minister's description of Mr Kamra's behavior - i.e. "offensive behaviour designed to provoke & create disturbance" - is "disruptive behaviour", for which the maximum punishment is only a three-month ban.
The other two - "physically abusive behaviour" and "endangering aircraft and passengers" - carry bans of six months and two years, respectively.
With input from PTI