Kozhikode: Ashraf Moodora was attempting to walk inside his tiny home with the support of crutches when a postman delivered him a letter from Air India Express on August 23.
Anxious to know its content, Ashraf quickly took a break from his activity and settled on his bed.
His hands shivered and eyes welled as he read the last paragraph. “We thus take this opportunity to notify you that we shall no longer be paying the cost of any medical treatment or care expenses presented to us beyond 30 days from the date of this letter. Thank you for understanding.” (sic).
The letter was another huge shocker for Ashraf after he had sustained serious injuries in the Air India plane crash in Kozhikode on August 7, 2020.
Ashraf, who was working as a cafeteria manager in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), had boarded the ill-fated flight from Dubai even as the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic hit the globe. The flight was expected to bring 184 Indians stranded in the UAE as part of the Vande Bharat Mission. The aircraft reached Kozhikode on time. But due to inclement weather, the pilot aborted two landing attempts before going for the third at 7.37 pm. But the flight skidded off the runway and fell into a gorge, killing 21 passengers and two pilots. Remaining 165 persons suffered moderate to very serious injuries. A majority of them are still undergoing treatment at various hospitals.
Ashraf survived the crash, but it took 15 days for him to regain consciousness. Since then, he underwent 10 surgeries at a private hospital in Kozhikode to rectify the injured right leg. Air India Express footed all the medical expenses.
But Ashraf’s treatment isn’t complete. He may have to visit the hospital many more times. With the Air India Express stopping the medical care, the onus on paying huge bills has fallen on Ashraf.
“I am unemployed now. I don’t know when I can return to normal life. How could I find money for my treatment? I was devastated after reading the letter from Air India Express,” Ashraf said.
Reluctance to accept offer
By discontinuing the medical care, Air India Express apparently focing the victims to accept its compensation package.
“Given the passage of time since the accident, and with us having made a full and final offer of compensation to you, such an offer inclusive of the anticipated costs of any future treatment and care, we have made this interim measure of paying passengers’ current treatment and care expenses,” stated the letter (sic).
Air India Express had unveiled the compensation package six months ago. But a majority of the victims have not accepted it as it failed to meet their expectations.
Muhammed Shareef, who lives with a severely injured left leg at his home in Ponnani in Malappuram district, said Air India Express did not do justice to him. “The offer was not fair. I cannot accept until Air India Express revises the package,” he said.
Thirty-nine-year-old Shareef, who worked in a beauty salon in Sharjah, moves around his home with the support of crutches now. He is unable to rotate his left foot. He has already undergone three surgeries. His medicine bill comes around Rs 7,000 a month. All the medical expenses till now have been borne by the Air India Express. But the decision to end medical care has worried Shareef. “I have lost my mobility and ability to work. How could I find money for my treatment from now on?” he asked.
It is learnt from reliable sources that the compensation package for the injured varies from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 5 crore.
Seventy-five victims are learnt to have accepted the offer.
Air India Express officials have been negotiating with the remaining 90 victims, but with little success.
The Montreal Convention addresses and determines the airline’s obligations, including passenger rights and compensation if an international flight crashes. India had adopted the Montreal Convention in 2009 and modified the country’s Carriage by Air Act in 2016 to unify rules governing the compensation globally.
According to lawyers dealing with air accident cases, Kozhikode air crash victims are eligible to get Rs 1.38 crore each going by the Montreal Convention clauses. They felt that Air India Express did not adhere to the Montreal Convention clauses while preparing the compensation package.
“I got a paltry offer. They did not consider the gravity of my injury, the trauma I am facing and my insecure future. Air India Express should revise the offer based on the clauses of the Montreal Convention,” said Shareef.
Why this haste?
Aircrash Action Council formed by Malabar Development Forum, an NGO, alleges that Air India Express wants to distribute the compensation package before the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) submits its report on the aircrash.
Action council’s secretary, Abdurahiman Edakuny, said Air India Express knows that the victims will move the court for better compensation once the report is out.
“That is why Air India is rushing to force the victims to sign the offer. They think that people will opt for the compensation if the medical care is stopped. It is a dirty trick,” he said.
While replying to a question from Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, Minister of State for Civil Aviation V K Singh stated that the investigation into the aircrash would be completed by August.
“Victims can move the court only after the publication of the report. We are eagerly waiting for it,” Abdurahiman said.
Global and Indian Insurers have given Rs 660 crore to Air India after the accident. Of this, Rs 317 crore is for the hull loss and Rs 343 crore is for the liability that may arise for the passengers who are dead or injured.
Abdurahiman said the victims want to know why Air India Express is stopping medical care to the victims and offering them lower compensation despite receiving a hefty amount as insurance claim.
Air India Express did not respond to Onmanorama’s request for a reaction. This story will be updated as and when we get it.
The action council will block Air India Express office in Kozhikode on August 31 to protest the decision to stop medical care to air crash victims. “The decision is unethical. Accident victims are undergoing treatment at different hospitals. Many of them need complicated surgeries. Stopping the medical care at this moment is inhumane,” said Abdurahiman.