Delhi HC strikes down AI pilots' agitation

Judges come down heavily on pilots for contempt of court's earlier order and said the strike will not see another day


Sweta Ranjan | May 2, 2011

The Delhi high court on Monday asked Air India pilots to call off the strike and resume work. A division bench of justices B D Ahmed and Beena Birbal, while hearing a plea for initiation of contempt proceedings against the pilots who have not performed their duty for last six days, directed the striking pilots to resume work.

"This strike will not see another day," the bench observed and told the pilots body Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) that the court will press the airline management to consider the demand of agitated pilots.

While the final judgement is reserved for Tuesday the bench said, “Whatever be the argument, it is clear contempt. You first withdraw the strike”.

ICPA, however, after the court's order told Governance Now that the pilots are ready to go to jail but will not succumb. An ICPA source said, " We have got no assurance from the AI management and the management is not ready to accept the 12 terminated and 8 suspended pilots back to work if the strike is called off."

The key members of ICPA were asked to be present before the court today to answer the contempt charges. President A S Bhinder, general secretary Rishabh Kapoor and regional secretary Amitesh Ahuja of the ICPA were issued contempt notices last Thursday by justice Geeta Mittal of the Delhi high court.

Earlier story :

The Air India pilots' strike entered the sixth day on Monday even as 90 percent of the airline's services remained crippled. Agitating pilots have refused to budge before their demands are met even after the Delhi high court's order on Wednesday asking them to resume work.

"We have curtailed 90 per cent of our domestic operations and plan to operate just 40 of the 320 daily flights. This curtailment is likely to continue till the strike is withdrawn," an Air India spokesperson said.

The airline which had stopped taking fresh bookings till Tuesday may have to extend this further with no signs of thaw between the Indian Commercial Pilot Association (ICPA) and the airline management. Meanwhile, on Monday, another airline union, Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU). which was recently derecognised by Air India, on Monday opposed the striking pilots accusing that they already draw hefty salaries and their strike was unfounded. A split in ACEU over the issue, however, soon surfaced with half of its 21,000 members supporting ICPA’s stand on the pay parity issue.

The strike has taken political color as the opposition BJP has taken sides with the pilot union and criticised the attitude of Air India management in dealing wth the striking pilots. BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy on Sunday said that the pilots were not at fault and accused the airline CMD Arvind Jadhav for for worsening the condition of the national carrier. Rudy alleged, " Jadhav seems to enjoy the support of the PMO as he does not report to the aviation ministry. He has instead been reporting directly to someone in the PMO." Rudy added, "There has been an attempt to paint the pilots as villains while it has been the airlines fault. The pre-merger losses were Rs 450 crore. A year after the merger, the losses went up to Rs 2,200 crore and the management attributed it to the global recession. In 2008, the losses were Rs 5,500 crore and it was blamed on oil prices. Now it has climbed to Rs 16,000 crore and they are blaming pilots. This is basically a plot to shift blame on to the pilots."

Whereas the airline management is sticking to its stand that they would hold no talks with the striking pilots till gthey et back to their work, the pilots say they are open to talks and will withdraw the strike if the management gives them assurances of resolving their grievances in a time-bound manner.

Even as ICPA will face criminial proceedings for defying the Delhi high court order, the striking pilots are adamant and and say they are willing to go to jail.

The Delhi High Court has initiated contempt of court proceedings against the pilots for their "utter defiance" of its order on Wednesday to call off the agitation calling it as "brazen and smacking of sheer arrogance".

The AI management ordered the pilots to report for duty failing which, it said the airline "is at liberty to take any action as deemed fit including termination of services". The management has already terminated nine pilots and has suspended six pilots for not reporting on duty.




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