NEW DELHI AND DUBAI // The families of some Mangalore air crash victims have appointed international lawyers to fight for compensation after a year of delays.
The Swedish law firm Advokaterna, Liman and Partners has replaced Mulla & Mulla, the firm based in Mumbai that was appointed by Air India after its Express Flight 812 crashed at Mangalore airport last year, killing 158 people.
Abdul Razzak, a member of the Mangalore Air Crash Victims Family Association, said although some families had received compensation, they were unhappy with the amount.
Last year, the Indian civil aviation ministry ordered the airline to provide up to 7 million rupees (Dh570,983) each to the victims' families in keeping with the Indian Carriage Air Act.
Several families said there was discrimination by sex and age, with women scheduled to receive 3m rupees and the victims' children receiving 2.5m rupees.
The civil aviation ministry last year also ordered interim compensation of 1m rupees for passengers older than 12 years and 500,000 rupees for passengers younger than 12, with 200,000 rupees for injured passengers.
Chandra Kumar, the chief operating officer of Air India, said 55 families had been compensated by his company. The rest, Mr Kumar said, "are in talks".
"There cannot be a timeline, because each of the claims has to be examined individually," he said.
The verdict in the Kerala High Court of the lawsuit of Abdul Salam, who lost his son Mohammed Rafi in the crash, is expected in a matter of weeks once the court resumes today after more than a month’s holiday.
Since the Indian bar council rules do not allow foreign lawyers to represent clients in Indian courts, members of 64 families have appointed the international lawyers to negotiate with Mitsui Sumitomo, the airline's underwriter, which is based in the UK.
"They have no alternative" but to pay, Mr Razzak said. "If they go for litigation it will take up to 10 years at least."
Stephan Eriksson, a lawyer who specialises in aviation accidents, will represent most of the families, the association said. The firm will not charge any fee for families who receive compensation of less than 10m rupees.
The lawyers' appointment means families can now address issues such as emotional loss in court, Mr Razzak said.
"They will consider grief, separation, sorrow, mental agony," he said. "These will now be taken into account and hopefully the compensation will be more. The Indian law firm was not willing to deal in all this."
Matters have been further complicated by a lack of proper financial proof of the victims' salaries and the number of family members making claims. Most victims, who lived and worked in Dubai, supported extended families.
"We have repeatedly expressed our dissatisfaction over Air India's lethargic role in the compensation," said Mohammed Beary, the president of the victims association.
So far only 110 of the 158 families, all of which the association represents, have been called to the negotiating table by Air India, Mr Beary said.
"The airline's earlier promise was that payouts would be made within three months, but it has been a year now," he said.
"I wish they had proceeded serially so people would have had a definite idea of when they were going to be called. They should have done this in the first stage."
After the crash, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh ordered 200,000 rupees to be paid to victims' families from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund.
BS Yeddyurappa, the chief minister for the state of Karnatakawhere the crash occurred, announced further compensation of 200,000 rupees to each victim's families.
"We have received compensation from the state and central government," Mr Beary said. "But Air India, this is still ongoing."
After five months of investigations into the crash, the court of inquiry submitted its findings last November 16. It blamed the crash on pilot error.
Investigators said Capt Zlatko Glusica, 55, had slept for more than 90 minutes during the flight. Glusica, a British and Serbian national, had more than 10,000 hours of flying time and 7,500 hours of command experience.
"Now that pilot error has been established, the compensation should be higher," said Mr Beary. "But we were not seeing any of this reflected in the negotiations with the families so we had to look for alternatives."
Meanwhile the Mangalore airport runway, which came under scrutiny after the crash, will not be extended, the airport's director MR Vasudeva said yesterday.
A week after the crash, Praful Patel, then the aviation minister, said it would be extended by 1,000 metres to a total 2,743 metres.
Suryatapa Bhattacharya reported from New Delhi; Preeti Kannan reported from Dubai.