Mangalore crash: Apex court notices on Rs.75 lakh compensation

The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice to the central government and Air India on a petition seeking a minimum compensation of Rs.75 lakh for the immediate family members of Mohammed Rafi who was one of the 158 passengers killed in the May 2010 air crash in Mangalore.

An apex court bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Dipak Misra issued the notice after senior counsel Harish Salve appearing for petitioner S. Abdul Salam and others told the court that under the Montreal Convention, the national carrier was obliged to pay a minimum compensation of 100,000 SDRs (special drawing rights) to the kith and kin of the passengers who died in the crash.

The SDR is a mix of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). According to the current value, 100,000 SDRs add up to Rs.75 lakh.

Directing the listing of the matter for hearing in April so that a law could be laid, the court said that it had looked up for law and there was no judgment on the issue.

Abdul Salam is the father of Rafi who was killed in the May
22, 2010, crash.

Salve told the court that under the Montreal Convention of 1999, the aircraft carrier is mandated to pay minimum compensation of 100,000 SDR in the first tier, based on the strict liability of the carrier.

Salve told the court that the provision of Montreal Convention of 1999 was adopted by India on July 1, 2007, by incorporating this as the Third Schedule to the Carriage by Air Act, 1972.

The petition said that the compensation awarded by the national carrier based on the age, income and loss of earning or dependency was against the principles of Montreal Convention.

Describing the judgment awarding 100,000 SDR as compensation as "absurd", Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman said that that even for a minor injury to a passenger, they would have to pay compensation of Rs. 75 lakhs.

As Nariman drew the attention of the court to the weakening rupee in the international market thereby contending that compensation amount was appreciating every day, Justice Bhandari told him: "You will be at the liberty to give (the compensation) in foreign exchange."

Air India Express flight 812 from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway while landing at the tabletop Bajpe airport, about 20 km from Mangalore, and caught fire after plunging about 300 metres off a cliff.

A judgement by a single judge of the Kerala High Court July 20, 2011 said that the victim Mohammed Rafi's kith and kin were entitled to minimum of 100,000 SDR based on Montreal Convention treating the matter as 'no fault liability'.

However, on appeal by the national carrier, the division bench of the high court by its August 25, 2011 judgment set aside the award of 100,000 SDR.

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