The government came down heavily on striking Air India (AI) pilots on Tuesday, sacking 10 of them. It also derecognised the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), the 450-member association of erstwhile AI pilots, and sealed its offices.
The government did not rule out the possibility of shutting down Air India if the crisis continued.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh made the government’s intention clear when he said that “disruption and discussion cannot go hand-in-hand”. Though the airline management had initially given pilots time till 6 pm to return to work, it then decided to act sooner.
Taking swift action, doctors were dispatched to the residences of pilots who reported sick last Saturday — affecting three AI flights. “When no serious illness was found, action followed. We will be sending doctors to the residences of other pilots too,” an official said, adding that the government will not talk to the sacked pilots.
“Serious action will follow. We hope the pilots get well soon and report to work,” the official said. The airline reported that the resultant disruption was minimal, and it managed to operate all the international flights in the afternoon.
“The pilots chose to deliberately damage the image and reputation of the company by disrupting flights by proceeding on a mass sick leave. This... has been viewed most seriously by the airline,” AI said.
But the IPG seemed to be in no mood to relent. “There is no question of calling off our agitation. Around 300 pilots reported sick today,” a member said.Terming the strike "illegal", Singh said, "There is a way to launch a strike. Every section has grievances and problems, but there are ways."