It was all due to negligence, so did the Judiciary

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Mangalore:  There is no doubt that the 812 crash was a result of negligence of the State Authorities. Be it the Airport Authority, the DGCA or the Air India, all of them failed collectively and the cost was paid by 158 lives. What is sad is that the people failed to honour the dead by ensuring that proper safeguards are in place to ensure another such tragedy doesn’t repeat itself. 812 Foundation was formed with fill this void, but unfortunately, so far, it has been a one man fight against the might of the State.

As the President of 812 Foundation, I feel helpless but I have not quit. As an Advocate, I only seek answer to one question I ask myself. Did the Judiciary fail its people? When I read the contents of the writ petitions filed in 1997 and 2002 before the High Court of Karnataka and the resultant SLP in the Supreme Court, I find a petition that had two specific warnings, first on the inadequacy of the Runway length and second on the inadequacy of the Rescue and Fire Fighting (RFF). If I were to put myself in the shoes of those judges, I would like to give the benefit of doubt to the Judges who have to deal with 100‟s of PILs, with many of them opposing infrastructure projects and run by „interested parties‟. May be the Judges, after the assurance from the State (the airport authority), found it proper to dismiss the writ petitions and so would have the Supreme Court dismissed the SLP. On 22 May 2010, the warnings in the Writ Petitions played out, exactly, as if it was the prophesy of Nostradamus. The COI Report had more questions than answers it was supposed to detail and the only conclusion for such a sub-standard report could be either the incompetence of its members or an intentional act of suppressing the truth. In any case, even with all its inadequacies, the failure of the RFF was stamped on it.

The Police, which have to investigate every case of death, failed to even use its common sense and preferred to hide behind the COI report without even having read one page from it. I had personally met the investigating officer, Mr. Valentine D’souza, who to my shock compared it with a Highway accident and wrote off the crash as a mere accident. I had no option but to approach the criminal justice system. It took me almost one year to convince the magistrate who took cognizance under the lesser charge of 304A of IPC. The act of this magistrate was not meaningless by any standard, for the young lady had before her letters written to the Prime Minister of the country who also happened to hold the charge of the Ministry of Personnel and whose sanction was needed to prosecute the senior government officials named in the complaint. The Judiciary raised its head and put its heavy hand on powers that be.

The next hearing was for the verification statement and that day was a shock and a surprise. From nowhere, an advocate appeared for Airport Authority informing the Magistrate that there was a stay order from the High Court. Was there any justifiable urgency in granting that stay? The magistrate had just taken cognizance, the sworn statement (verification) was yet to be done and no process was issued to any of the accused. How did any of the accused go to the High Court? And if at all someone did, how could the High Court grant a stay on the

Entire trial? Was there such a glaring error on the orders of the Magistrate? As an Advocate, I know what it meant. Inordinate delay in the criminal justice system. Knowing the Indian Judiciary, I knew I had to have patience and to this day I have been waiting. Anyone could ask me as to why I didn’t move the High Court to get the stay vacated? I had no money to spend on engaging the advocates for it is not just about appearance, but it was about the ability to spend time to go through the enormous details of the case. It is no mean task. Anyone would take not less than a month to understand the intricacies if they had done nothing else but studied the case. I filed a reply, notarised it and sent it to the Registrar of the High Court where it is continuing to gather dust because the High Court rules state that no pleadings could be accepted by post. We are speaking of the electronic filing days, but our archaic rules are still the order of the day.

The 812 Foundation raised the issue of Aviation safety in the Supreme Court through a PIL only to see the same disposed on first hearing referring it to the Ministry of Civil Aviation against whom the writ was filed.

As an Advocate, even if I give the benefit of doubt to the judiciary in not being able to protect the right to life of the people in the writs filed in 1997 and 2002, the stay order granted by the High Court of Karnataka and the Disposal of a writ on aviation safety by the Supreme Court are clear cases of the Judiciary failing its people. The Karnataka High Court ought to have even initiated suo motto contempt charges against Airport Authority for having given a false undertaking in the 1997 Writ Petition.

To best put out the role of Judiciary, on the occasion of the 99th birthday of the great Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Universal Publications released a book “A Surfeit of Tributes to India’s Greatest Living Judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer” in which his nephew, an accomplished pilot and Aviation Safety expert, Mohan Ranganathan wrote an article titled „Role of Indian Judiciary in Aviation Safety‟. He writes “Judges turning a blind eye to aviation safety are endorsing death penalty on innocent lives. Humane conscience is required and not blind acceptance of government promises. Only a strong and punitive judicial message will save lives. Else, the blood of 158 souls that departed in Mangalore on the fateful day in May 2010 will remain etched on judges‟ hands. When judicial numbness to loss of lives is added, divine intervention is our only hope.”

On the 4th anniversary of the deadly crash all I can do is to close my eyes and fold my hands for a divine intervention.

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