The Karnataka High Court has set aside a criminal case against senior executives of Air India, Airport Authority of India (AI) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in connection with the 2010 Air India Express accident in Mangalore.
The High Court has held that a magistrate court in Mangaluru which initiated the proceedings against the officials did not follow due process of law and overlooked the court of inquiry’s report on the accident.
An Air India Express Boeing 737 aircraft crashed at Mangalore airport on May 22, 2010 killing 152 passengers and six crew members. The aircraft which was returning from Dubai (flight no IX-812) overran the runway and fell down the hill on the end of the runway.
A magistrate court in Mangaluru in 2013 had issued summons to airline and government officials on a private complaint for causing death due to negligence. The complaint was filed by Narayana Pai and Yeshwant Shenoy of 812 Foundation.
The complaints said the accident was the direct consequence of gross and willful negligence on the part of Air India, AAI and the DGCA. The airline and AAI filed criminal petitions in the Karnataka High Court challenging the magistrate’s order.
“In the present case the learned magistrate has not at all considered the report submitted by the court of inquiry. The conclusion drawn by the court of inquiry should not have been overlooked by the learned magistrate,” Justice Ashok G Nijagannavar said in his order last Friday.
The court of inquiry which probed the air crash had concluded that the cause of the accident was IX-812 captain’s failure to discontinue unstabilised approach and his persistence to continue with landing despite calls for a go around from the first officer. The High Court also observed that the court of inquiry report did not indicate that
the petitioners (airline and government officials) were responsible for the accident.
The magistrate court had relied on section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code to initiate proceedings in this case. Section 197 deals with prior government sanction for prosecution of public servants.
“The High Court held that Section 197 does not provide for any deemed sanction in cases of negligence and that the magistrate need not act as a sanctioning authority,” said advocate Anjana Gosain who appeared for the civil aviation ministry in the matter.
Also the court ruled that since the civil aviation ministry which is the sanctioning authority in the case did not grant its approval for prosecution the complaint was liable to be quashed.