A large number of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) activists from Kasaragod district in Kerala and Dakshina Kannada laid siege to the Air India corporate office here for over an hour on Wednesday.

Led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP for Kasaragod P. Karunakaran, the activists were protesting against what they termed “manipulative tactics” of the airline and Reliance General Insurance while paying compensation to the kin of those who were killed in the May 22 Air India Express crash here.

The agitators, who had brought family members of several crash victims along with them, charged the airline's solicitors, Mulla and Mulla Associates, with trying to mislead and bully the family members during the ongoing final settlement negotiations.

Boycott threat

Charging H.D. Nanavati, leader of the Mulla and Mulla team, with rude and manipulative behaviour, Abdul Basheer, kin of a crash victim, said, “We will boycott the negotiation meetings if he is going to be there.”

Likening the process of fixing compensation to auctioning, Abbanu Maddadu, relative of another victim, said, “They treat people who cannot speak English like scum. Most of us are from poor families and can't speak English.”

Speaking to presspersons after submitting a memorandum to airline authorities, Mr. Karunakaran expressed concern over the “inhuman” behaviour of airline authorities, its solicitors, Civil Aviation Ministry authorities and Reliance General Insurance officials.

The MP said that he and his party colleagues would meet the Prime Minister and the Civil Aviation Minister on September 10 to discuss this issue.

“This charade in the name of awarding compensation is being played out to reduce the burden on the insurance company. I do not understand why their services should have been hired in the first place when there are four major public sector insurance companies,” he said.

Quoting from Article 21 of the Montreal Convention, to which India is signatory, he said the present system of awarding compensation to the heirs based on the income of the victims goes against the convention. Pointing out that the West Asian countries where most of the victims of the May 22 Air India Express crash were employed did not have labour laws, he asked, “Where do they expect the victims' families to get income certificates from?”

Quoting Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel's assurances that the heirs would be paid over Rs. 75 lakh as compensation, he said that very few had actually been given this amount.

‘Illegal'

“The present illegal system is being followed with impunity because everybody knows that the families are too poor to fight a case in an international court,” he said.

Asked if his party would support the heirs to move court, he said, “of course”, and added that “it would be a tragedy” if the already distraught families had to go to court.

The agitators also called for more transparency in compensation negotiations, which are being conducted behind closed doors. “The negotiations should be conducted in the Air India office in front of everybody,” said DYFI's Dakshina Kannada unit president Muneer Katipalla.

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