In­diAn di­As­porA in gUlf Up­set with Air in­diA

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert -

Air In­dia has been dragged to the Delhi High Court as it has with­drawn the 50% dis­count and of­ten free car­riage (in case of poor fam­i­lies) on the trans­porta­tion of mor­tals that the air­line pro­vided to In­di­ans dy­ing in the UAE. A lawyer, Jose Abra­ham, has filed a pub­lic in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion in this re­gard on be­half of an NGO, Pravasi (Over­seas) Le­gal Cell.

It all started when the AI, on 19 Septem­ber, put an end to the 50% re­duc­tion in fares that it was pro­vid­ing for the car­riage of bod­ies of In­di­ans who died in the UAE. The air­line also put an end to the free trans­porta­tion of bod­ies for the dis­tressed and low-in­come In­dian fam­i­lies liv­ing in the Emi­rates. Air In­dia said that it was only fol­low­ing the air cargo tar­iff (TACT), with the stan­dard rate spec­i­fied by the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion. Air In­dia had been fol­low­ing TACT rates ev­ery­where ex­cept the UAE. Now, with fi­nan­cial pres­sures, Air In­dia bosses took the de­ci­sion to levy charges as per TACT rates.

Air In­dia’s de­ci­sion does not seem to have gone down well with the In­dian Di­as­pora in the Gulf. The In­dian Am­bas­sador to the UAE, Navdeep Singh Suri, has been quoted by a Gulf daily say­ing that the em­bassy would help the des­ti­tute and be ready “to take on a larger re­spon­si­bil­ity and fill the void left by Air In­dia. It would also as­sist where the spon­sor, em­ployer or in­sur­ance com­pany fail to bear the ex­pen­di­ture.”

Ad­vo­cate Jose Abra­ham told The Sun­day Guardian that the de­ci­sion to hike fares had af­fected the fun­da­men­tal rights of im­mi­grants work­ing abroad. He points out that low-cost car­rier In­diGo car­ried bod­ies of res­i­dents of the North­east who die in Delhi free of charge. A few coun­tries, in­clud­ing Pak­istan, Bangladesh, etc., have pro­vi­sions to carry the mor­tal re­mains of their cit­i­zens back to the coun­try free of cost.

“Fer­ry­ing mor­tal re­mains by air has al­ways re­mained a costly af­fair, es­pe­cially for un­der­priv­i­leged mi­grant work­ers liv­ing far away from their home town,” says the PIL. The Delhi High Court has asked the govern­ment to re­spond and point out the pol­icy of sev­eral air­lines, in­clud­ing Air In­dia, to al­leged charge of “ex­or­bi­tant” rates.

Prof Be­jon Misra, Founder, Con­sumer On­line Foun­da­tion, says that “Air In­dia should con­tinue with the sub­sidy and the govern­ment should sup­port the cost for free trans­porta­tion of the mor­tal re­mains for fam­i­lies who can­not af­ford to pay.”

Ac­cord­ing to a Par­lia­men­tary re­port, 7,694 bod­ies of In­di­ans were stranded in for­eign coun­tries in 2015: 2,690 bod­ies were in Saudi Ara­bia and 1,540 in the United Arab Emi­rates.

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