New Delhi/Mumbai: Holding that the strike by over 200 Air India pilots was "illegal", the Delhi High Court Wednesday barred them from any protest action, as the airline management sacked 16 more pilots.
As the agitation by pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) entered the second day, harried passengers complained of flight delays by over two hours with some having heated exchanges with airline staff in Delhi and Mumbai for not helping them.
Six international flights were cancelled today. These were from Mumbai-Newark and those from Delhi to Singapore, New York (JFK), Chicago and Toronto.
The government, which has been talking tough, said it was ready to talk to the protesting pilots but only after they resumed duty. The cancellation of flights has been causing Air India a huge financial loss of over Rs 10 crore per day.
Justice Reva Khetrapal of Delhi High Court said in her order: "The defendant no 1 (IPG), its members, agents and its office bearers are restrained from illegal strike. The pilots are also restrained from reporting sick, holding dharnas, staging demonstrations or resorting to any other modes of strike in and outside the company's offices in Delhi and other regional offices."
She also said allowing such strike to continue will cause irreparable loss to the company as well as huge inconvenience to the passengers travelling by the national carrier.
Trying to reason out, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told the pilots, "if you have grievances, we can talk, but discussions and disruptions cannot take place simultaneously. They should withdraw their strike and apologise to the passengers."
He said the government has "a back-up plan (to deal with strike)...We can downsize...If employees are not interested that Air India should expand, then government is not going to provide money to it."
Singh said agitating pilots reported sick, even when it was well known that they were not.
"Air India is almost bankrupt. It is not able to pay salaries for months, not paid to airport authority and oil marketing companies," he said, adding the government is trying to revive Air India by infusing Rs 30,000 crore of "public money" over a period of time, but there are strings attached.
He held out the assurance that the Justice Dharmadhikari panel report, on integration of workforce of erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines including promotions, would be discussed in a month or two and pilots would be actively involved.
Filing an injunction suit against the pilots in the Delhi High Court, counsel for AI management Lalit Bhasin termed the strike as illegal and said due to the pilots' strike, the company has been compelled to cancel some of its international flights.
When contacted for his reaction to the High Court order, IPG President Jitendra Awhad said, "we have received some information about it. So, we are seeking legal opinion."
As contingency plans were put in place, Air India's domestic operations were also "marginally" affected as some narrow-body aircraft like Airbus A-319s and A-321s were taken off from domestic operations and operated on routes like Singapore and Tokyo, where the wide-body Boeing B-777 planes generally fly, airline sources said.
All other international flights are operating as per the contingency plan that has been put in place with the available pilots, the official said.
16 pilots were sacked today while the services of 10 office-bearers of the IPG, which is spearheading the strike, had been terminated yesterday, taking the total of dismissed agitating pilots to 26.
The IPG has a strength of about 250 pilots while the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has over 1,200 membership out of a total of 1,600 pilots. The remaining are mostly executive pilots.
The pilots' strike issue figured in Parliament with members asking Government to ensure that concrete steps are taken to revive the ailing airline.
First Published: Wednesday, May 09, 2012, 11:32