IndiAn diAsporA in gUlf Upset with Air indiA
Air India has been dragged to the Delhi High Court as it has withdrawn the 50% discount and often free carriage (in case of poor families) on the transportation of mortals that the airline provided to Indians dying in the UAE.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.