The Delhi State Consumer Commission on Thursday ordered the Indian Airlines to pay a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to 160 passengers of its IC 814 flight which was hijacked by terrorists and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan nine years ago.
The family of Rupen Katyal, who was killed by the hijackers, would get Rs 5 lakh.
The national carrier was held “negligent” in allowing “unauthorised armed persons” on board its Kathmandu-New Delhi flight, endangering the lives of passengers.
The commission directed all airlines to undertake their own security checks apart from those by the airport authorities before allowing passengers on board.
“Such incidents put a constant question mark on the security of air passengers….once any passenger enters into any contract for availing their services after paying a consideration, he places himself at the disposal of the airlines for safe journey to his destination for which he pays the consideration,” a Bench headed by its president Justice J.D. Kapoor said in his order.
The order came on a petition filed by passengers Ashok Gupta and his wife Manju Gupta, residents of Azadpur, Delhi, who underwent the eight-day ordeal, seeking compensation from the airlines.
When contacted, Executive Director of Indian Airlines (now Indian) Jitender Bhargava said, “We are clueless about the judgment. We can comment only after seeing it.”
Justifying compensation for all passengers, the commission said “even if only one person files a complaint and the commission is of the opinion that loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently, every person has to be treated as an individual complainant for the purpose of compensation”.
The judges rejected the contention of the airline that security inside the aircraft was the responsibility of the civil aviation authorities at Kathmandu airport.
“Any kind of lapse at the stage of embarking resulting in the entry of unauthorised persons that too with arms and ammunition endangering the safety of passengers amounts to deficiency of service on the part of the airlines,” the court countered.
Rejecting the airline’s argument citing rule 17 of Carriage by Air Act that they are liable for damage only in the event of “physical harm like death or injury to a passenger”, Justice Kapoor said it extends to “psychological trauma”. The court said the Act made it incumbent upon the carrier to ensure that no unauthorised person boards the aircraft.