x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Compensation row grows for Air India families

Teenager recounts the day he lost his father in the May crash that killed 162 people, as families say they have received much less than due, or are still waiting for any help.

KOZHIKODE, KERALA // Nishant Nair's search for his father began in the hospital and ended two days later at the morgue. The 17-year-old schoolboy was at the airport in Mangalore on May 22 when Air India Express 812 crashed as the plane came in to land. Only eight of the 166 passengers and crew on the flight from Dubai survived the accident.

Nishant remembers little of the next few days, except chaos. Since the death of his father, Ratnakaran Nair, he has faced complications over the compensation due to the family, as have many of the victims' relatives. "I see my mother and sister now and all I want to do is grow up fast," he said. At first he believed the family would receive 7.5 million rupees (Dh590,000) from the airline but was told later that the settlement would reflect his father's salary. So far, they have had an interim payment of one million rupees.

Nishant does not know how much his father earned as a glass carver in Dubai, but he sent home 10,000 rupees a month. He has now been told the final settlement will be almost half of what was initially promised. "So far I have not complained," Nishant said. "I am waiting to see what they offer first. "They are processing 10 applications a week. It will take a long time to reach us." Nishant represents his family in the growing protest over the compensation packages. Those who have lost loved ones call themselves the Mangalore Plane Crash Victims Association.

Some relatives say they are still waiting for a call from the budget airline. PM Pratap, 31, lost his friend Vijesh Kovval, 30, who was to arrive for Mr Pratap's wedding and celebrate his own first wedding anniversary. Mr Pratap said Mr Kovval's family had yet to receive any compensation from the airline. A week after the crash, Air India officials said cheques had been handed to 12 families. In the interim, they were being offered a million rupees, with further payments from insurers to be distributed later.

In June, at a press conference in Dubai, Arvind Jadhav, the chairman of Air India, said he would personally extend his services to the families. "We will take care of the families," he said at that time. "This is my personal pledge." Abhay Pathak, the regional manager for Air India in Dubai, confirmed that the one million rupee cheques were an interim payment, with more to follow. He added that he had been told that all the affected families had received their provisional payouts.

The next step, he said, was for company-appointed lawyers to assess the remaining sums to be paid. These would vary according to parameters such as income and the number of dependents. Moinuddin Refai's father, Hamid Pokayam, 41, was a driver in the UAE for 16 years who was on his way home to see his ailing mother. His salary supported his wife, parents and four children, including Mr Refai. So far, the family has received a series of payouts from the Indian government and a million rupees from the airline. The money has gone towards medical bills and feeding a family of seven.

At 18, Mr Refai has finished high school but now needs further support to continue his education. He is currently working as a labourer in his village near the town of Kasargod. "I am not sure but I think we were supposed to get much more," he said. "The situation is very bad. No one else in the extended family wants to support us because they say I should stop studying and start looking for work.

"I am thinking of filing a case like the others for inadequate compensation. Even if we all want to hire legal consultants, once the matter is closed, I am still not confident that we will receive full compensation." UT Khader, a politician in Mangalore, said the passport information taken from the deceased helped determine compensation by providing details of employment and the number of dependents. He said payouts were based on earnings, with a ceiling of eight million rupees.

"There is a lack of communication between the airline and the people," he said. "Each individual handles the shock in a different way. Even now, we cannot forget about it. "Compensation cannot replace the businessmen, chartered accountants and engineers that we have lost." @Email:sbhattacharya@thenational.ae