Flying an MiG-21 amounted to violation of his fundamental right to life, an Indian serving wing commander told the Delhi high court, seeking redressal after a regular flight exercise in 2005 went awry, leaving him with debilitating neck and back pain that has rendered him unfit for flying and even everyday tasks, Indian media reported on Wednesday.
The court directed the Centre to provide a list of MiG-21 crashes that have taken place till date and posted the matter for October 10, 2013.
The petition was filed by Sanjeet Singh Kaila, a serving officer in the Indian Air Force, who cited “violation of his fundamental right to life, especially the right to work in a safe environment” under Article 21 of the Constitution.
In his plea, Kaila said he was posted at Air Force Station Nal in Rajasthan as a squadron leader in 2005. On January 4 that year, he embarked on a regular flight exercise along with three other pilots. “Immediately after take-off, the petitioner experienced a drift to the left side of the aircraft. Simultaneously, the petitioner was informed by the other pilot flying the second aircraft, of a fire at the rear end of his aircraft. Assessing the emergency, the petitioner promptly carried out all the essential directives and got the tyres of the aircraft down for a landing,” the petition said.
“The petitioner performed all the aforementioned actions despite the rear of the aircraft being engulfed in fire. Despite a near-complete engine/control failure and at grave risk to his own life, the petitioner continued to stay put in an almost uncontrollable aircraft so as to steer it away to safety from a nearby village. The petitioner exited the aircraft only seconds before the crash.”
Kaila said that following the incident, he was injured and later forced to discontinue flying after a comprehensive medical examination showed he was suffering from cervicalgia and disc bulges of vertebrae (cervical spine). “The medical report also clearly mentions that the petitioner was rendered unfit for flying duties because of the incident. He was additionally instructed and advised by the doctors to even refrain from performing day-to-day tasks,” it said.
The petition further alleged that a reply to his RTI application revealed that the incident was caused due to a manufacturing defect and poor workmanship at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) facility. Kaila claimed that despite sending a representation to the government on December 25, 2012 seeking compensation for the loss suffered as a result of the air crash, no response was forthcoming by the government.
The matter was filed before the court in May 2013. On May 22, a bench of Justices Geeta Mittal and Deepa Sharma had issued notice to the government and HAL respondents in the petition seeking their response. On Tuesday, while HAL appeared through its counsel, no reply was filed by the Centre.