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No end to AI pilots’ stir; HC warns of contempt action

New Delhi(PTI): With no end in sight to the 10-day stir by over 200 Air India pilots, the Delhi High Court today warned they could face contempt action for ”wilfully and flagrantly” disobeying court orders and continuing with their ”illegal” agitation.

In a stern warning to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) that is leading the stir, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Rajiv Shakdher said, “we could have directly proceeded with the contempt of court proceedings against you, but we leave it ot the single judge so that better sense will prevail on you (IPG).”

Rejecting the IPG plea, the court said, “in our view, no litigant can avail of any discretionery remedy from the court by wilfully and flagrantly disobeying the orders of the court.”

The IPG had moved the court challenging the ex-parte order of a single judge on May 9 holding the strike as illegal, saying it was done without any authority.

With the single-judge bench likely to take up the matter tomorrow, the Air India management was awaiting court’s decision before deciding on further action, officials said.

But the IPG remained adamant saying it was contemplating moving the Supreme Court in the matter, with IPG leader Tauseef Muqaddam saying, “we are taking opinion of legal experts … As far as I know, the court has asked us to take our petition to the single bench of the court, which we had filed before the vacation division bench.”

In a related development, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said he has convened a meeting of all recognised unions next week to discuss their career progression issues, in a moved aimed at checking further labour trouble in the process of implementing the post-merger integration of Air India employees as recommended by the Dharmadhikari Committee.

However, the IPG, which has been de-recognised by the airline for leading the pilots’ stir over similar issues, is not likely to be part of the discussion as only “recognised” unions are being invited.

An airline statement said all domestic operations were being operated as per normal schedule and there were no disruptions due to the agitation.

The airline operated curtailed international services under its contingency plan.

The Dharmadhikari Committee, which has recommended several measures on HR integration issues in post-merger Air India, is likely to be taken up for discussion at the meeting.

Meanwhile, the airline today operated all its international flights, including those to North America and Europe as per the curtailed schedule, an Air India official said.

Airline officials said the pilots, who have been reporting sick, have to go for compulsory check-up before a medical board after 14 days in order to maintain their licenses.

If they fail to report back to duty “feigning sickness” for more than 14 days, the pilots would have to report to the DGCA which will refer their cases to a medical board for the purpose, they said, adding that the agitating pilots had “four more days to go”.

In the last ten days, Air India’s losses have shot up to Rs 188 crore only due to the pilots’ strike.

The airline officials said the daily losses were working out on an average of Rs 13-15 crore.

The loss has been caused by ticket cancellations, the cost of putting stranded passengers on to other airlines, unused labour and a bulk of Air India’s 17-strong fleet of aircraft Boeing 777s being grounded.

These long-haul planes are primarily operated by the pilots, who are carrying out the stir.

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