An Indian Air Force pilot, who was injured in a MiG-21 crash in 2005, today moved Supreme Court seeking vacation of stay on the Delhi High Court order awarding him Rs 55 lakh as compensation for being exposed to “unreasonable risk”. A vacation bench of Justices M M Shantanagoudar and Deepak Gupta said the matter will be listed for July 17 before an appropriate bench.
The counsel appearing for IAF pilot Sanjeet Singh Kaila, said that he had filed caveat but it was not listed before the bench which passed an exparte order staying the verdict of the high court by which Rs 55 lakh compensation was awarded to him. The bench said that the application for vacation of stay will be take up along with the main matter pending before the court.
The apex court had last month stayed the high court order on a plea of the government and the state-own aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited challening it. On May 2, the high court had granted compensation to the pilot, holding that manufacturing defect and faulty workmanship of the fighter jet had led to the crash.
It had asked the government and the HAL to pay Rs 5 lakh and Rs 50 lakh respectively to 46-year-old Wing Commander Kaila within four weeks. Kaila is at present posted at Nashik in Maharashtra. The pilot had sought compensation on account of violation of his fundamental right to life, especially the right to work in a safe environment under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The serving Air Force officer had moved the high court in 2013, also seeking a direction to the Centre and the HAL to issue a formal apology for the manufacturing defect and the faulty workmanship of the MiG-21 aircraft that allegedly led to the crash. He had also sought guidelines for the manufacturing company to avoid such incidents in future.
Allowing his plea for compensation, the high court had noted that putting the officers of the armed forces above what is “expected to be normal risk” was against the fundamental right to life, especially the right to work in a safe environment guaranteed by the Constitution.
The court had said that the HAL was liable to compensate pay compensation for “exposing him to more than reasonable risk”. The Russian-origin fighter aircraft has been often referred to as the “Flying Coffin” and “Widowmaker” due to its poor safety record.
It was perhaps the first time that an IAF plane crash survivor had taken on the government in a high court seeking redressal and compensation. In 2005, a regular flight exercise had gone awry, leaving Kaila with debilitating neck and back pain that has rendered him unfit for flying and even for day-to-day activities, according to the petition.
Kaila had said he was posted at Air Force Station, Nal in Rajasthan as a Squadron Leader in 2005. On January 4 that year, he had took off for a regular exercise along with three other pilots. “Immediately after take-off, he experienced a drift to the left side of the aircraft. Simultaneously, he was informed by the pilot flying the second aircraft of a fire at the rear end of his aircraft.
“Assessing the emergency, he promptly carried out all the essential directives and got the tyres of the aircraft down for a landing,” the petition had said. Kaila performed all the procedures even though the rear of the aircraft was engulfed in thick fire, it had said.
Despite a near-complete engine/control failure and at grave risk to his own life, he continued to stay put in an almost uncontrollable aircraft so as to steer it away to safety from a nearby village, the petition had said.
To save human life, he ejected only seconds before the crash of the aircraft, according to said.
Kaila had said following the incident, he was injured and later forced to discontinue flying after a comprehensive medical examination showed he was suffering from cervicalgia and disc bulges of the vertebrae (cervical spine).
“The medical report also clearly mentions that he was rendered unfit for flying duties because of the incident. He was additionally instructed and advised by the doctors to even refrain from performing even day-to-day tasks,” it had said.
The petition had further alleged that a reply to his RTI application revealed that the incident was caused due to a manufacturing defect and poor workmanship at HAL’s facility.
Kaila had claimed that despite sending a representation to the government on December 25, 2012 seeking justice by compensating him for the loss suffered as a result of the air crash, no response was given it.