Supreme Court upholds the dismissal of Employee Union Leader in Airline Crash Case.

May 2010, Air India (AI) flight IX-892 overshot the runway and crashed at the Manglore Airport killing 158 including crew. The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) ordered an immediate inquiry into the crash; AI management issued circulars to employees and trade unions requesting them to refrain from releasing any statements regarding the crash until after the inquest. Enraged by the circular General Secretary of the Employees Union, Y. V. Raju, called for a flash strike, revealing the cause of the crash and blaming a technician from another airline; Gen. Sec. Raju along with his supporters were instantly dismissed for over stepping protocol. Most employees were reinstated when they submitted their regrets.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court rejected Gen. Sec. Raju’s appeal challenging the decision of dismissal, thereafter proceeding to the Supreme Court (SC) in appeal.

The grounds for the writ – The authority that passed the order of dismissal was not competent to exercise power under Regulation 13 (a) of the Indian Airlines (General Employees) Service Regulations. A finding was recorded that it is was only the Board of Directors (BOD) of AI that was competent to exercise the power under Reg. 13 (a) and since the order of dismissal was passed by the Chairman and Managing Director , it cannot be sustained by the law.

A Division Bench of the High Court of Andra Pradesh (HC) was of the opinion that though the Chairman and the MD passed the order of dismissal, it was ratified by the BOD and that there was no illegality with regards to the jurisdiction. The HC expressed its displeasure and disapproval of the Union especially Gen. Sec. Y.V Raju; censuring his act of calling a flash strike an ‘irresponsible misconduct, indulging in blame game’. It opined that the management and union should have worked in tandem, keeping aside existing disputes in a ‘spirit of dedication’ in the face of the nature of crisis. The Court observed that even though Y.V. Raju may have attained the age of superannuation and even if he were to be within the age limit, the HC would not have granted a semblance of relief to him. The HC could not rule out the possibility that the statement issued by Gen. Sec. Y.V. Raju might have caused a noticeable amount of disrepute to his organization and might have been done with an ulterior motive of helping the competitive airline indirectly.

This view was re-iterated by the SC, while upholding the HC decisions, “ in the immediate aftermath of a serious plane crash, you were expected to work for the interest of the organization. But you started making statements against the organization for which you work. If such irresponsible statements are made, who will ever travel in Air India?”

In praise of the AI the HC said the discipline an organization needs is to be put in place by the management, it applauded AI’s grit in situation and encouraged it to ‘repeat it with great vigor to promote discipline as the immediate beneficiaries of a well-run organization are the employees’ .

In times of an unfortunate incident or crisis, the SC through its decision has directed organizations and its beneficiaries i.e. their employees/workmen/laborers to rally around and support their organization and its management.The union leader here, may have had a valid technical point to move to court; however the Apex court has used this opportunity to point out what is expected of organizations and its beneficiaries. They are required to act responsibly by exhibiting and extending sensitivity to the situation by not calling for unnecessary industrial actions that do not address the immediate issue.