New Delhi, Apr 28: The Delhi High Court today came down heavily on striking Air India pilots for defying its order to resume work as the national carrier management moved the court seeking contempt proceedings against the pilots.
Justice Gita Mittal castigated the pilots during a brief hearing of contempt plea by national carrier's management.
"What is your defence with regard to non-compliance of yesterday's order to call off the strike?," Justice Mittal asked Indian Commercial Pilots' Association counsel Sanjay Ghosh.
As Ghosh sought to explain to the court that some of the agitating pilots had gone to meet the AI management but none of them was heard by the management, Justice Mittal remarked, "You have breached the court's order. It is very serious."
After a brief hearing of the Air India management's plea for launch of contempt proceedings against the pilots, the court decided to give it an elaborate hearing.
During the brief hearing, the counsel for ICPA, which was banned by Air India authorities yesterday, sought to defend the pilots saying they were in such a disturbed mental conditions that forcing them to operate flights would amount to putting passengers' lives in danger.
"In such a disturbed mental state, how can we operate flights and put the passengers' lives in danger?," argued Ghosh.
At this, Justice Mittal said, "If you come down to this level, no court of the country will accept your defence. You have the right to challenge the order, but you have no right to defy it."
Appearing for the AI management, advocate Lalit Bhasin told the court that the pilots were in the habit of keeping the Air India management on tenterhooks with their consistent threat of strike.
Referring to a strike notice, given by pilots after the May 2010 Managalore air crash, Bhasin said, "They keep sending notices for strike, day in and day out. They are clearly liable to be hauled up for contempt of court for defying its yesterday's order to resume work."
Justice Mittal rebuked the pilots pointing out that they were, after all, agitating only for pay parity with another section of AI pilots and it was not their case that they were being paid absolutely nothing.
The judge asked the ICPA counsel to make his client see reason and follow the court's order.
"Mr counsel, why don't you make your clients (pilots) understand," Justice Mittal said, adding that it was their constitutional obligation to discharge their duty.
"Do you know what are you jeopardising? It is your constitutional obligation. You are paid to discharge your duty," Justice Mittal told ICPA counsel.
Justice Mittal told the striking pilots, "You abide by the law, the court will ensure your requirement will be considered by the management."
At this, the counsel for agitating pilots told the court that he met them yesterday and tried to convince them to resume work, "but owing to the management's attitude, they are not ready to relent."
At this, an exasperated judge remarked, "There is no exception. If you do not comply, I have no choice, but to pass an order, including attachment of (ICPA) property."
The 800-odd pilots, who belong to the erstwhile Indian Airlines and owe allegiance to the ICPA, have gone on strike alleging there are differences in salaries and working conditions of pilots of Indian Airlines and Air India.
They have alleged the AI management has violated the memorandum of settlement signed in November 2009 on implementing the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations.
The entity, formed after merger of Indian Airlines and Air India, has about 1,200 pilots with 400 belonging to erstwhile Air India and largely operate international flights.
The ICPA claims while Air India pilots enjoy a big fixed salary component, the same is almost minuscule for the former IA pilots.
The pilots contend that while their entire pay package depends on the hours they fly every day, the airlines has been curtailing the number of flights by 30 to 40 per cent. PTI