India's Supreme Court issues notice on Mangalore crash compensation

The Supreme Court of India has issued a notice to Air India, stating that it will review a compensation claim for the families of 158 people who died on a flight from Dubai to Mangalore in 2010.

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DUBAI // India’s top court yesterday issued a notice to Air India and the Indian government, stating that it would review a petition seeking compensation for families of the 158 people who died in the Dubai-Mangalore crash, in accordance with international laws.

A lawyer who filed the appeal against the carrier in the Indian Supreme Court late last year said yesterday that the court had admitted the appeal only after it noted the case was of “supreme importance”.

“At the time of admission, the Supreme Court expressed its view that there is no precedent in India on the issue raised by the parties,” said Kodoth Sridhar, the lawyer for Abdul Salam, whose son was among the people who died when flight AIX 812 overshot the runway and crash-landed at Mangalore airport. Only eight people survived.

“Before a case is admitted to the Supreme Court, they should be of the opinion that the matter is of substantial importance,” Mr Sridhar said from New Delhi.

Under the Montreal Convention, airlines are required to pay compensation of 100,000 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) – a mixture of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund – or the equal of 7.5 million rupees (Dh560,000) per passenger to families of crash victims, without needing negligence to be proven.

In July last year, a judge in Kerala ordered the airline to follow the convention in the country’s first judgment since it became a signatory of the treaty in 2009.

However, the judgment was overruled a month later by the Kerala High Court in favour of Air India. The verdict said victims would have to show “proof of loss” and were not automatically entitled to 100,000 SDR, as the convention stipulated.

“The Supreme Court will now decide if there is an automatic entitlement after the hearing,” said Mr Sridhar. The final hearing will begin in April, he said, adding that the judgment could be pronounced within a month.

Families of the victims yesterday said the court’s decision was a positive sign that they could receive fair compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

“I am confident the court will rule in our favour,” said Mr Salam, 46, a fisherman from Kerala.

He filed for rightful compensation after his 24-year-old son, who was working as a salesman in Dubai, died in the crash.

Abdul Rahman, a Dubai resident who lost his wife and a son in the tragedy, believed the court’s notice will have an impact on the final judgment.

“We are confident about it,” Mr Rahman said. “Air India is purposely delaying the matter to avoid paying full compensation as per Montreal Convention.”

He expressed disappointment that Vayalar Ravi, the former civil aviation minister, who had promised to expedite compensation, had been replaced last month.

“He was forcing Air India to pay proper compensation to the families but he was removed from the portfolio,” he said. “It’s sad.”