A woman helicopter pilot who was sacked by the Indian Air Force for being “obese, overweight and unable to fly” has challenged her dismissal in court, calling it “discrimination”.
Prerana Chaturvedi joined the IAF as a 22-year-old trainee 10 years ago. She soon proved her mettle with innumerable sorties from airfields in Bathinda, Sarsawa, Leh and Jamnagar.
Promoted to Flight Lieutenant in four years, her career touched the pinnacle during ‘Operation Parakram’. But soon after, things went wrong; she found herself “grounded”, and then dismissed. The reason — she had put on nine kilos.
Prerana has challenged the IAF decision in the Delhi High Court. She has also asked the National Commission for Women as well as Congress president Sonia Gandhi to intervene.
“This is discrimination. While I was dismissed for being overweight there are male officers who have been given ground duty after being found medically unfit to fly,” she told the court, arguing the case herself.
A division bench comprising Justices Swatanter Kumar and G.S. Sistani asked the IAF to produce records on September 18, pertaining to her dismissal. Prerana, 5 ft 7 inches and 70 kgs while joining in 1995, gained nine kilos by May 2003 when she was declared “permanently unfit for flying”. She was dismissed four months later.
“During Operation Parakram in 2002 I weighed 79 kgs, more than permissible. But I was declared perfectly fit for flying. How come some months later I suddenly became unfit?” she asked.
The IAF cited a 2000 amendment saying that personnel would be put on ground duty if overweight. They then cited another amendment providing that Short Service Commision personnel declared unfit for flight duty would be dismissed.
Prerana said the IAF invoked an outdated 1962 rule, and argued that she should not have been recruited if her weight was unacceptable at the time of selection.
The IAF made no comment as the case was sub judice. Sources, however, said that there was concern that the health problems of a helicopter pilot could endanger her passengers.