May 22 is undoubtedly a black day in the history of Mangalore in particular and the country in general, because it was on this day that ill-fated Dubai-Mangalore Air India Express flight IX -812 aircraft plunged into a valley killing 158 passengers on board.
However, even after three years of the tragedy, neither the government nor Air India has initiated any measures to construct a memorial in memory of the victims. The memories of their near and dear ones lost in one of the worst crashes in India continue to haunt hundreds of residents in India.
Only eight passengers had survived when flight IX 812 from Dubai overshot the tabletop runway at Bajpe Airport and caught fire after it plunged into a valley.
Ground zero, the spot where the ill-fated flight plunged into the valley is covered with thick vegetation and holds no evidence of an air crash now, after three years. The steel frames of the memorial which was vandalised five months after it was erected, too are missing.
Thannirbavi burial site where 12 unidentified victims were laid to rest is unmarked and can not be easily located. A road has come up at the burial ground site.
During the first anniversary of the tragedy, Air India Express COO S Chandrakumar had promised that the Air India had decided to contribute 90 per cent of the financial assistance for the construction of air crash victims’ memorial at Malavoor village near Mangalore. “The Malavoor Gram Panchayat had planned to set up a community hall, dispensary and reading room in the village in memory of the crash victims. The Air India will contribute 90 per cent of the funds for the work, while rest of the amount would be borne by the Gram Panchayat,” he had said and had added that a plaque carrying the names of the deceased too will be erected by the side of the memorial. However, the memorial has not come up till date. When Deccan Herald contacted Air India official in Mangalore, he said that the proposal is with the Air India headquarters. “We have not forgotten the proposal. Air India is looking into it.”
Promises only on paper
Though the then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had promised to extend runway from 8,000 feet to 9,000 feet soon after the tragedy, the proposal is still gathering dust.
Praful Patel had said that the State government should initiate steps to provide land for expansion.
However, the State government had not taken any pro active measures in this regard. Interestingly, the newly appointed Forest Minister Ramanath Rai in a press meet on Tuesday has said that the work on land acquisition will be expedited.
Meanwhile, the sources in Air India said that they can not build a memorial either at Kenjaru (Ground zero) as it is a private land or at Thannirbavi as the land belongs to the Port. The Port had given the land on the understanding that graves had to be left unmarked and no memorial will be built.
According to Mohammed Beary, the President of Mangalore Air Crash Victims’ Families Association, some families have received good amount of compensation. However, that does not mean that everybody has got what they deserve. “Our demand is that there should be a minimum payment of Rs 75 lakh as per the Montreal Convention. In the case of non-working women and children, the average compensation given was just Rs 25 lakh to Rs 35 lakh,” he said and added: “We have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, demanding the payment of Rs 75 lakh. The petition is pending in the Supreme Court. If we win the case, then all the victims are likely to get a minimum of Rs 75 lakh.”
The Association has also written a letter to the Central government, State government and Air India to take up the work on memorial.
Meanwhile, based on a writ petition filed by 812 Foundation (an NGO) President Yeshwanth Shenoy on behalf of the family of the victims of Mangalore air crash, the Supreme Court has directed to issue notices to the Airport Authority of India, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India.
The petition seeks a claim of Rs five crore for the violation of fundamental right of life in addition to the claims for damages. The petition also seeks establishment of an adhoc court to look into the claims of each of the victims families.
The Foundation has also filed a separate writ petition seeking re-probe into the Mangalore Air Crash.
The petition will come up for hearing when the Supreme Court re-opens after the vacation.