The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the Centre and HAL to pay a total of Rs 55 lakh compensation to a serving IAF officer rendered unfit for flying after a MiG-21 crash in 2005.
A division bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Deepa Sharma said the armed forces cannot be put to “more risk than they had bargained for” and directed the Centre to pay Rs 5 lakh and the aircraft manufacturer Rs 50 lakh.
In 2013, Sanjeet Singh Kaila, a serving Wing Commander, moved the High Court to seek direction to the government and Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) to issue a formal apology for alleged manufacturing defect and faulty workmanship of the MiG-21 fighter jet that led to its crash.
The court held that putting officers of the armed forces into more than expected “normal risk” is against the fundamental right to life, especially the right to work in a safe environment guaranteed under the Constitution.
HAL is liable to compensate the officer for “exposing him to more than a reasonable risk”, said the bench.
Kaila said a reply procured under the Right to Information Act on a Court of Inquiry finding revealed that the accident was caused due to poor workmanship and manufacturing defect in the aircraft.
He submitted that the intent behind filing the petition was to ensure that “HAL is made accountable and aware of the ramifications of their actions, impacting the security of this country”.
Kaila said he was posted at the Indian Air Force Station at Nal in Rajasthan as a Squadron Leader in 2005. On January 4 that year, he embarked on a regular flight sortie 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 a pilot flying the second aircraft about a fire at the jet’s rear end. Assessing the emergency, the petitioner promptly carried out all essential directives and lowered the landing gear of the aircraft for a landing,” his petition said.
“The petitioner performed all aforementioned actions despite the aircraft’s rear end 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… to save human life, the petitioner ejected only seconds before the crash,” his plea said.