Don’t India’s airline companies, both international and domestic, including the national carrier Air India treat the dead with dignity? Are the rates being charged to transport bodies exorbitant?

The Delhi High Court has decided to examine these issues. A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and V K Rao on Monday issued notices to Civil Aviation Ministry, MEA and Air India on a PIL filed by NGO ‘Pravasi Legal Cell’ which termed as ‘callous’ the prevalent policy of weighing the mortal remains as mere cargo and fixing a rate according to the weight, and charge very high rates? It said at present Air India charges 15 Dirhams/Kg which comes to around Rs 300 per kg to air lift bodies of Indian migrant workers who die in Gulf countries.

“It is not only a gross inhuman practice but also violative of the dignity of the dead body” argued advocate Jose Abraham who represented the petitioner NGO. The PIL sought framing of guidelines for transportation as well as the repatriation of mortal remains of the Indian migrant workers dying abroad.

“The exorbitant charges are unbearable to some of the unemployed, unidentified Indians and low paid workers, which clearly violates their rights enshrined under of constitution by causing grave injustice. Apart from the financial intricacies, the unfamiliar law, culture and language of the different country brings in more trouble in the very difficult time, that is the death of kin, the Airlines charging an exorbitant amount based on the weight of the human mortal which will not only amount to arbitrary, unfair pricing but also disrespect to the mortal remains”, argued Abraham.

“Due to financial constraints, relatives of the deceased were unable to take the body back and on several instances these migrant workers who die far from their home town are buried or cremated in foreign land with their kith or kin even unable to see the body”, he said.

The PIL also submitted that the airline has stopped flying the remains of disadvantaged Indian workers without freight charges. The NGO said it was forced to move apex court as a memorandum it sent to the External Affairs Ministry on the issue did not yield any response.

It said Air India last month cancelled the 50 per cent discount in freight charges it had been offering to transport the mortal remains of a person, from the UAE to India and now the charges levied by the national carrier to transport the mortal remains from Dubai to India as per the new rates are at Dh (Dirham) 16.60 per kg to Mumbai, Dh 19.10 to Delhi, Dh 27.20 to Chennai and Hyderabad, Dh 28.85 to Calicut and Dh 29.08 to Kochi.