The Delhi High Court on Friday dismissed Air India’s appeals against an order directing the reinstatement and payment of back wages to over 40 pilots whose services were terminated last year.
A bench of justices Rajiv Shakdher and Talwant Singh upheld the relief granted to the pilots by a single judge of the high court and clarified that those who have now secured employment elsewhere would only be entitled to back wages and not reinstatement.
“We find no good ground to disturb the final result arrived at by the learned single judge,” said the bench.
The pilots had moved the high court last year after Air India refused to accept the withdrawal of their resignations and terminated their employment.
“The State and its instrumentalities are obliged to act as a model employer, and, therefore, cannot be seen to deprive the pilots of the right to serve the organisation (Air India) at a point in time when finding jobs in the private sector is a difficult proposition.
“The State and its instrumentalities are expected to look at myriad aspects and not just profits. Welfare of employees in times when jobs are difficult to come by should form a crucial ingredient of its decision making process. The State cannot be seen to cast off its social responsibility towards its employees and their families when it expects the private sector to bear that burden,” the court said.
In its 64-page order, the court held that acceptance of resignation was an integral part of the process put in place for a pilot seeking to exit.
It also rejected as “irrelevant” Air India’s objection that the pilots had tendered resignations because they sought “greener pastures” i.e. better offers from private airlines, and said that the untenable financial wherewithal of the pilots because of the pandemic could not denude them of their legal right to revisit their decision to resign.
The single judge had quashed the carrier’s decision to terminate the services of the pilots, both permanent and on contract, and directed their reinstatement.
In its June 1 order, the single judge had said that back wages, including allowances, have to be paid at par with what in-service pilots were receiving and in accordance with the government rules.
In its appeal, Air India had opposed the reinstatement and payment of back wages to the pilots, saying that unless resignation is specifically made prospective, it is effective immediately and a pilot cannot withdraw it subsequently.
It had contended that there was no such “notice period” within which pilots can be said to have a right to withdraw their resignations.
“Once a resignation is tendered, a pilot has to continue to work for six months in terms of the Civil Aviation Requirements, in public interest,” senior counsel for Air India had said.
The lawyers for the pilots had argued that Air India’s stand could not be accepted as a resignation is prospective in nature, which comes into effect after the mandatory six-month notice period.
It was pointed out that in certain instances before the court in the present batch of appeals, the withdrawal of resignation was even accepted by Air India.
The terminated pilots had first moved the high court in July last year, seeking directions to Air India to accept withdrawal of the resignations tendered by them.
However, on August 13, 2020, Air India issued termination letters to several pilots, including those who had wanted to withdraw their resignations.
Subsequently, the pilots moved the high court against the August 13, 2020, decision of Air India.