Kochi: The families of victims of the Air India Express crash in Mangalore last year are entitled to a minimum compensation of Rs 75 lakh each, the Kerala High Court held today.
Justice P R Ramachandran Menon passed the order while allowing a petition filed by Abdul Salam and Ramla, parents of 24-year-old B Mohammed Rafi, who was killed in the crash.
158 passengers and crew on board the Air India aircraft from Dubai had perished in the worst air disaster in the last decade, when the plane caught fire after one of its wings hit a hillock at Kenjar in Mangalore.
The brothers and sisters of the deceased are also party to the petition. Union government and National Aviation company (erstwhile Air India) are the respondents in the case.
There were 166 persons on board the flight IX-892, piloted by a Serbian national. Operating the Boeing 737-800, the pilot had first tried to land and later attempted to gain altitude.
The court held that the carrier was liable to pay no fault liability of one lakh SDR (Special Drawing Rights equal to Rs 75 lakh) to the petitioner. The SDR is a special currency issued by IMF. This is apart from whatever other compensation the petitioners are entitled to.
The petitioners prayed for a direction to settle the entire statutory claims made under the provision of the Air Act 1972 from the respondents on the death of Rafi. They had sought Rs 1.5 crore as compensation.
Noting that India was a signatory to the Montreal Convention, the court said, “It is clear that the intention of lawmakers was to bring about a parity in the matter of payment of compensation to the passengers, irrespective of class of travel, while providing for a ‘two tier system’ of compensation as adopted in Montreal convention.”
The “first limb” of compensation as stipulated under Rule 21(1) of the Third schedule was with the said intent to provide the same as the “minimum compensation” payable in respect of death or the bodily injuries subject to the satisfaction of extent of damage, the court said.
“Since the extent of damage to any injury cannot be anything more than death”, no further proof is necessary to have sanctioned the minimum compensation of “Rs one lakh SDR” in the case of death and this is the mandate of the Statute, it held.
The court said it was of the “firm belief” that Mohammed Rafi, who lost his life like the several others, was not liable to be discriminated by the respondents, restricting the compensation with reference to his age, income or the dependency of the members of the family.
The petitioners were entitled to have a “minimum of one lakh SDR” as compensation payable under the Statute based on the Montreal Convention treating the matter as “no fault liability” which can in no case be “absolved or limited by the carrier under any circumstances”, it said.
About Rs 20 lakh has already been paid to the petitioners and the rest should be paid in a month’s time, it added.
The petitioners said the deceased, working in UAE was returning home to Kumbala in Kasaragod in the ill-fated flight.
They said that the National Aviation Company Ltd, put forth an “unconscionable” demand, allegedly at the instance of their insurers, to come to a settlement for a total sum of Rs 35 lakh in full and final settlement.
Against this, the petitioners approached the High Court seeking a declaration and enforcement of their rights, referring to the mandate of the Montreal Convention.
The air crash was solely on account of lapse on the part of the pilot and in turn the sheer negligence of the National Aviation Company, they said.
The company filed a counter stating that the matter has to be dealt with as per the provision of the Carriage by Air Act 1972, as amended by Montreal Convention of 1999 to the exclusion of all other laws in force in India.
Referring to the fact that the deceased was aged 24 and was “employed as salesman in a supermarket, earning a salary of 2000 AED (RS 25,000 per month)”, the maximum compensation was contended as much below Rs 35 lakh and accordingly the amount was offered as compensation payable in “full and final settlement”, which was unacceptable to the petitioners.