Nine years later, court orders damages to Kandahar passengers (Lead)

December 4th, 2008 - 8:38 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS) Justice has finally been delivered to the passengers who had boarded the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi that was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan nine years ago.A consumer court here Thursday held the Indian airlines responsible for “deficiency in service” and asked it to pay compensation to all those on board the flight No. IC 814.

The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission headed by Justice J.D. Kapoor awarded a compensation of Rs.100,000 each for the agony and trauma suffered by those who survived and Rs.500,000 to the legal heir of the lone passenger who was killed by the terrorists.

The airline told the court there were “about 160″ passengers on board, though the flight had 174 passengers then.

The Indian Airlines flight IC-814 was hijacked Dec 24, 1999, from kathmandu and taken to Kandahar, where the passengers were held hostage till Dec 31. The then foreign minister Jaswant Singh reached Kandahar by another flight and released three prisoners and five terrorists - who were all Pakistanis, according to India. Their release was demanded in exchange for the passengers held hostage.

One of the passengers, Rupin Katyal, 25, was killed by the hijackers during the captivity.

Justice Kapoor said every passenger on board the ill-fated aircraft was entitled to compensation in terms of Section 14(1)(h)(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, as they all had suffered the same degree of injury and agony.

The court passed this order on an appeal filed by Ashok Gupta and his wife Manju who were among the passengers.

The Indian Airlines had denied compensation to these passengers by invoking Rule 17 of the Carriage by Air Act, 1972, that said the carrier is liable for damages for death or injury to a passenger if the accident took place on board the aircraft or during embarking or disembarking.

The aircraft was hijacked while it was near Lucknow and was taken to Amritsar where it was allowed to refuel and then it landed at Kandahar where Gupta and his wife with other passengers and crew remained captive for eight days.

“The whole of this period was a nightmare for them; their hearts throbbing heavily being in the situation between life and death, shock waves going down their spines. Their sufferance cannot be described in words and can well be imagined,” said Justice Kapoor.

Gupta in his petition said: “There was no proper food to eat and there was always a fear… when a bullet would pierce us. We were not permitted to even raise our heads and were made to sit with our heads down on our knees.”

While coming down very heavily on the airline for the narrow and literal interpretation of “bodily and personal injury”, Justice Kapoor said: “Greater sufferings result from psychological causes than bodily harm and such sufferings endanger life, limb and health including mind, brain, heart and other organs.”

“To say that they did not suffer injury, much less any bodily or personal injury, is highly far-fetched and preposterous, as mind, brain, heart and all other parts of human body get affected by shock, physical torture, mental suffering and psychological trauma,” Justice Kapoor said.

“There cannot be a worst case of suffering including mental, physical, bodily and personal injuries than this,” the order said.

As to the liability of Indian Airlines and its deficiency in service, the airlines made the plea that it was an international airline and the airports authority of the country from where the flight was to take off were supposed to be responsible for the external security on the ground and internal security in the aircraft.

However, Justice Kapoor said: “Once any passenger enters into any contract with the airline for availing their services, he places himself at the disposal of the airlines for safe journey to his destination for which he pays the consideration and with security regulation clause makes it incumbent upon the carrier to ensure that no unauthorised person boards the aircraft and if the airline fails in their duty they and they alone have to be held liable for the said negligence in service as safety of the property and person of the passengers till they reach the destination is the most important ingredient of the contract as is mentioned on the jacket of the ticket.”

Justice Kapoor also directed the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to issue instructions to all airlines to undertake security checks of all passengers at the time of embarking the aircraft even after the multi-layer security check.

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