Karnataka High Court has directed Air India, to pay Rs 20 Lakh compensation to a physically disabled doctor, and her aged mother who had to suffer immense mental trauma and physical suffering as the Airline delayed giving her wheel chair, at the Heathrow Airport, London, while on a holiday to Europe. Justice B Veerappa while directing the Airline to pay RS 10 lakh each to Dr S J Rajalkshmi and her 63-year-old mother Dr S Shobha said "Taking into consideration the violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, violation of the provisions of the Aircraft Act and Rules, and Section 44 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, this court is of the opinion that the petitioners are entitled to 20,00,000 as Compensation/ damages."
It also directed Deputy Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru South, to take appropriate action against the Inspector, Girinagar Police Station, for not registering case in terms of the provisions of Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, on the complaint made by the petitoners, of their ordeal, soon after landing in Bengaluru. The tour operator admitted to the lapses and accordingly paid RS 3,45,000 to the petioners which was accepted and the prayers against the operator were withdrawn.
Sumithra Ezi Drive & Travels has conductedcustomized tour for 16 days, in 2016. Both the petitioners paid Rs.5,40,000 as booking. The tour was to be conducted from July 24, 2016 to August 10, 2016. Air tickets from Bengaluru to London and
London to Bengaluru were booked separately through Air India, with the wheel chair option. When the petitioners reached London at about 6.00 a.m. on 19.7.2016, the wheel chair was not made available.
A complaint was lodged complaint to the Police and the concerned authorities of the Air India on that day itself. But no reply was received nor any assistance. At 9 on the airline Only at 9 p.m the airline provided regular wheel chair and shifted the petitoners to hotel, at 11.00 p.m.
The petitioners had planned to fly to Scotland, but the same was missed because of not providing wheel chair on 19.07.2016 at 6.00 a.m. Accordigly they booked tickets for the next day on assurance that they will be provided wheel chair at 7 a.m. on the said day. But again the airline were able to provide wheel chair only at 11.15 am at their hotel. Therefore, the petitioners have missed the said flight also.
Petitioners then booked Jet Airways flight at 6 p.m. and reached Scotland and landed in a private hotel. Subsequently on 23.7.2016 returned to London and stayed in a hotel. On 24.7.2016 the agent of tour operator did not meet the petitioners nor arranged the hotel as agreed at the time of booking. After managing on their own, they returned to India on July 27, due to the health problem.
The petitioners, claimed compensation of RS 5,06,000 towards Air tickets and other incidental expenses, RS 13,30,800, towards medical expenses. Further, in view of the above, the petitioners, both being Doctors, could not concentrate on their practice for six months. Therefore, claimed `15 lakhs for loss of earning. In all, petitioners claimed Rs 33,36,800.
Air India filed objections:
They did not dispute the list of events stated by the petitioners. On 11.8.2016, letter of apology written by Respondent Nos.1 & 2 to the petitioners. The whole cost of both petitioners' tickets (used and unused) has been refunded. An amount of RS 4,000 is paid for delay in handing over baggage. The petitioners are not entitled to any relief before this Court under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India and have alternate remedy before the Consumer Forum or Civil Court, seeking damages.
Court said :
Indian Government also has come out with various legislations and schemes for the upliftment of such differently abled persons, but gap between the laws and reality still remains. Even though human rights activists have made their best efforts to create awareness that people with disabilities have also right to enjoy their life and spend the same not only with the sense of fulfillment, but also to make them contribute in the growth of the society, yet mindset of large section of the people who claim themselves to be 'able' persons still needs to be changed towards differently abled persons. It is this mindset of the other class which is still preventing, in a great measure, differently abled persons from enjoying their human rights which are otherwise recognized in their favour.
As regards infringement of Fundamental rights of the petitioners the court said:
"Because of the mistake committed by the respondent Nos.1 and 2 by not providing the service as contemplated under the guidelines issued by the Central Government of India from time to time, to take care of the tourists, especially disabled persons, the petitioners have suffered physical and mental agony, emotional trauma and humiliation. They cannot digest the sufferings. Ultimately, they cut short their tour and returned to India, burying their wish of seeing the world. That is not the intention of the legislature while enacting the guidelines, Aircraft Act and Rules in that regard. The first petitioner who is physically disabled cannot be discriminated and Article 14 of the Constitution cannot be violated. She cannot be deprived of her personal liberty as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Rejecting the argument of Air India of alternate remedy available to petitioners at Consumer Forum and Civil Court, it said.
"The respondents have not discharged their duty and thereby made the first petitioner who is 75% disabled made to suffer. Thereby, the petitioners are dragged before this Court. The petitioners cannot be directed to approach either the Consumer Forum or the Civil Court for compensation, since there is an admitted fact that there is mistake on the part of respondent in not providing wheel chair to the first petitioner within the time stipulated, when they reached the London Airport. It also relied on dictum of the Supreme Court in the case of Jeeja Ghosh and another vs. Union of India and others.
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