Did Air India Goof Up with Vande Bharat Flights from Abroad?

Did India’s national carrier Air India majorly goof up on health-check grounds during its operations of Vande Bharat flights which came in from other countries? The question becomes more serious with the number of Corona cases being reported from pilots and other air crew which was part of Vande Bharat Flights.

Air India’s reply to the RTI filed by noted activist and lawyer, Satya Prakash suggests that the national carrier grossly neglected compulsory health check-ups of inbound passengers from at least two flights from Rome, Italy.

Satya Prakash had filed an RTI application with regards to two Vande Bharat inbound flights from Rome, Italy with on March 14, 2020, with 218 passengers on board and March 21, 2020, with 263 passengers on board.  The reply given by Air India is shocking indeed.

The reply states that for the March 21 flight, Air India accepted passengers on basis of Embassy list. The Embassy of India in Rome did pre-checkups of passengers and qualified only those passengers who cleared the tests conducted by them. Also, the team of doctors, reports and all other medical details were not shared with Air India, Italy.

Similarly, for the March 14 flight, no health documents were submitted to Air India. The team of doctors, reports and medical details were also not shared with Air India, Italy. And this disclosure is from an RTI which asked about the details of only two inbound flights. There could be numerous more such incidents of neglect in medical check-up of those coming from other countries as well.

An email sent by www.indianpsu.com to the office of Shri Rajiv Bansal, Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Air India, failed to elicit any response.

The pilot bodies are already up in arms as the government has proposed a 60 per cent salary cut for pilots amid the coronavirus pandemic which has infected 55 of its cockpit crew members, stated two leading pilot unions of Air India just four days back.

“The proposed cut for pilots is almost 60 percent of gross emoluments. It is hilarious to note that the top management has proposed a meagre 3.5 per cent cut on its own gross salary,” said a joint letter by the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) and Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) to Air India CMD Rajiv Bansal.

“As of date, 55 pilots have tested positive for COVID-19. Is it fair to penalise these pilots by saying that they will be paid on actual flying hours? They are unable to fly as they contracted the coronavirus while on duty. Is this how the MoCA (Ministry of Civil Aviation) wants to honour frontline workers,” the unions had asked the CMD.

Sources within Air India told www.indianpsu.com said the press release regarding leave without pay is being termed as voluntary, but it is not. It was only after the massive furore created, that the management of Air India stepped back a bit. Sources say that wage negotiations with pilots and cabin crew really does not mean anything as they get a majority of their salaries in terms of allowances.

Sources add that pilots of Air India are yet to receive their general allowances since February and their flying allowance due since April. They add that negotiations have to be fair. While a ten percent pay cut for a pilot would mean reduction of almost 33 percent of his monthly salary, the same would mean only a few thousand of Rupees for the top management of Air India as these executives have a very paltry amount of their salary as allowances. Sources say that those pilots and cabin crew of Air India who should have been hailed as Corona Warriors, are instead, being harassed by the top management as Air India was the only carrier operating in COVID-19 times.

Advocate Satya Prakash, who filed this RTI told www.indianpsu.com that while nothing was done for the common man, where was the right to equality when persons who were stuck abroad brought free of cost, while they could afford to pay fare for flights. He questions whether those brought from abroad were quarantined or given strict advice of home quarantine. He terms this as a gross negligence on the part of Air India.

And as usual, the top management of the flying PSU of India, chosen simply not to reply to an email, which questions its policies in the times of COVID-19.

(Indian PSU: A 360-degree web platform for Public Sector Undertakings of the country. Follow @IndianPSUs for all the News & Views on PSUs, Corporates, Markets, Bureaucracy, Public Policy)

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