Tuesday, September 08, 2020

‘Rewards’ and Punishment: How Air India SATS Deals With Sexual Harassment Cases

Mumbai: At a time when Binoy Jacob, the former vice president of Air India-SATS, has come under the scanner in the sensational gold smuggling case in Kerala, a former junior employee has accused the premier ground and cargo handling agency of protecting him in a sexual harassment complaint filed by her in 2016.

The AI-SATS, a joint venture between the Central government-owned Air India Limited and SATS Limited, handles the ground and cargo at airports. The Air India chairman is the ex-officio chairman of AI-SATS.

Merin Mathew, a former employee of AI-SATS, had filed a police complaint against Jacob for sexual harassment in 2016 after the Internal Complaints Committee – set up by her employer to handle her complaint – had rejected her allegations against the top official. Mathew said, based on the ICC report, AI-SATS had instead initiated a disciplinary inquiry against her, alleging that she had instigated the staff against the management.

“When I learned that this was to happen to me, I resigned. My resignation was accepted in October 2017. In the year between the release of the ICC report and my resignation, I was ostracised by most of my colleagues,” she told The Wire.

When Mathew had lodged the complaint against Jacob with the AI-SATS management in 2016, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered a case against him under the Prevention of Corruption Act for cheating the Airports Authority of India and causing a huge financial loss to the government. Later though, the CBI gave him a clean chit in that case.
Prior to that, in 2006, Jacob was an accused in a visa fraud case probed by the Kerala crime branch. “He was facing trial in this case when he was appointed by AI-SATS. Without disclosing this criminal case against him, he obtained police clearance certificate from Kottayam. He further obtained Airport Entry Permit from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security,” a top state police source stated. The case was settled in the Delhi high court on April 1, 2014 after Jacob paid a sum of Rs 1,25,000 that he was accused of swindling from the aggrieved persons.

Mathew, relating her complaint against Jacob and the ongoing police case, claimed that working in AI-SATS “was a nightmare then”.

“When I joined the organisation as an administrative officer in 2015, I immediately discovered that there did not appear to be any functioning of ‘due process’. I had not got an offer letter. My cost to company (full salary and benefits) had been discussed with me, but had not been confirmed since there was no offer letter issued to me. Everything appeared to depend on an evaluation by the organisation’s vice president Binoy Jacob. This ‘evaluation’, I soon learned, was sexual harassment,” Mathew told The Wire.

Also read: ‘I Was Sexually Harassed By a Senior Advisor to the Maldives President. This is My Story.’

An accused in the present gold smuggling case, Swapna (Swapnaprabha) Suresh, who is now in police custody, was appointed by AI-SATS during Jacob’s tenure. The case has come to light after the customs department seized 30 kg of gold from diplomatic baggage belonging to the United Arab Emirates consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.

Mathew has been widely quoted in the state’s media reports claiming that Jacob had put pressure on the staff then to smuggle in gold into the country, calling it to have an “underworld-like environment” at that time. She has also said that not only Swapna but several persons were appointed by AI-SATS in less than meritorious way.

As per media reports, NIA has said that it would call some senior AI-SATS officials for interrogation.

On July 16, Jacob was asked to leave his present job by the ground handling agency Bhadra International following the allegations against him in the case.
08/09/20 Kunjila Mascillamani/The Wire
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