Shooter Manu Bhaker was allegedly stopped at IGI Airport, and allowed to travel after Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju intervened.
Shooter Manu Bhaker was allegedly stopped at IGI Airport, and allowed to travel after Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju intervened.
Twitter/@realmanubhaker

Indian Olympian and shooter Manu Bhaker claimed that she was harassed by Air India officials at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport on Friday while she was trying to board a flight from Delhi to Bhopal. Air India has refuted her claims.

The Olympian had alleged that she was stopped from boarding an Air India flight from Delhi on Friday unless she coughed up over Rs 10,000 as she was carrying weapons and ammunition required for her training.

She also said that the Air India employees misbehaved with her, snatching her phone when she tried to take their pictures, and made her feel like a criminal. Air India responded to the allegations and claimed that only the "legitimate documents were asked for, contrary to the allegations made."

"After verification of the documents shown by Ms Bhaker, the security officials informed her that the document required for exemption of payment of handling charge for carriage of arms, as per laid down norms, was missing, and as such, fixed charges for the carriage of arms would have to be paid," it said.

The airline also said that it was clearly explained to Ms Bhaker as to why the document for exemption shown by her was invalid. Moreover, Air India said that Manoj Gupta, the employee who Ms Bhaker alleged had harassed her, had at no point communicated directly with her.

The airline's statement read, "This is also corroborated by the CCTV footage. Hence, the allegation of misbehavior by him simply does not arise. The CCTV footage also nullifies the passenger's allegation of bribes being asked for and snatching of mobile phone."

The airline further clarified by saying that they have utmost respect for sports icons, but rules and regulations cannot be compromised. "In this case also, Air India was only following the protocol regarding such a sensitive activity like the carriage of arms on board," the statement read.

"Air India has always encouraged and has the highest respect for Sports and Sportspersons and have many eminent sports legends who have done Air India and India proud over decades," it added.

The whole fiasco started when Bhaker tweeted "Manoj Gupta (Air India official) is treating me like I am a criminal. Also his security in-charge. Such people need basic training of behavior hopefully aviation ministry will find out." She eventually boarded the aircraft after Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju intervened. "You are India's pride @realmanubhaker," the Sports Minister replied.

Read full statement made by Air India here

This pertains to Ms Manu Bhaker's recent flight with us on 19th Feb 2021. Ms Manu Bhaker was travelling with her mother Ms Sumedha Bhaker by flight AI 437 on 19th February, 2021 from Delhi to Bhopal departing at 1945 hrs.

During check-in at the Delhi airport counter, Ms Manu told our check-in employees that she was carrying an Air Pistol and a 0.22 Bore Gun. She was advised by our counter personnel to get the documents, mandatory to carry arms & ammunition, verified by Air India Security officials.

After verification of documents shown by Ms Bhaker, the Security Officials informed her that the document required for exemption of payment of handling charge for carriage of arms, as per laid down norms, is not there and, as such, fixed charges for the carriage of arms would have to be paid. It was explained to Ms Bhaker that the document for exemption shown by her was not valid as it was signed only by the Assistant Secretary of the National Rifle Association, whereas, as per rules -details of which are available on the Air India website -signature of only the Secretary or President of a bonafide association is recognized for waiver of the charges.

Subsequently, the applicable charges -that is Rs 5000 plus 5 % GST, for two -a total Rs 10,200 -was conveyed to Ms Bhaker. Ms Bhaker requested for 10-15 minutes from our personnel to procure the required document for waiver of charges for carriage of her arms on board. The moment she furnished the required document to the Air India check-in & Security personnel, her baggage, including the arms were accepted for carriage.

It may be noted that though the DGCA permit allowed her carriage of arms from 20th February, in view of the Rifle Association certificate with bonafide signature, Air India had extended courtesy to have her on board with the arms on 19th February itself. Subsequently, Ms Bhaker with her mother proceeded for their security check and were facilitated to board the aircraft.

Our employee Mr Manoj Gupta was at the Counter throughout and had, at no point, communicated directly with Ms Bhaker. This is also corroborated by the CCTV footage. Hence, the allegation of misbehavior by him simply does not arise. The CCTV footage also nullifies the passenger’s allegation of bribes being asked for and snatching of mobile phone.

Air India, as a responsible airline, always adheres to the rules and regulations governing operations. In this case also, Air India was only following the protocol regarding such a sensitive activity like the carriage of arms on board. Air India has zero tolerance for any kind of misdemeanor or arbitrary demand from its employees, like the ones alleged by Ms Bhaker. Only the legitimate documents were asked for, contrary to the allegations made.

Air India has always encouraged and has the highest respect for Sports and Sportspersons and have many eminent sports legends who have done Air India and India proud over decades.

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