Delhi High Court: The Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat, Deepa Sharma, JJ. has observed that though a member of the Armed Forces ungrudgingly consents to the risk that comes with his enlistment in the forces, he is still entitled to a safe workplace with standard equipment.
On January 04, 2005, while on a regular flight exercise, the petitioner’s MiG 21 aircraft burst into flames soon after takeoff; after all responses to save the aircraft failed he bailed out and sustained some injuries. A medical examination revealed that he was suffering from Cervicalgia (intense forms of pain, localized to the region of the cervical spine), and accordingly he was shifted to a non-flying category. Later, it was disclosed to the petitioner through RTI applications that the cause of the accident was a manufacturing defect and poor workmanship on the part of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The Court of Inquiry had also found that the incident was caused due to the development of a fatigue crack in the welded portion of the afterburner manifold.
The High Court noted that the right to work in a safe environment applies to armed forces as well, and in the case of Indian Air Force, the employers are expected to ensure that the aircraft and the machinery is not compromised by substandard maintenance. The Court also noted that though the conclusions of the Court of Inquiry were available, the truth was withheld from the petitioner, and he could approach the court only after the RTI queries were responded to. Thus, the UOI was held liable to compensate the petitioner Rs. 5 lakhs for the trauma and agony which he had undergone, and HAL was held liable to compensate him Rs. 50 lakhs for the inadequate workmanship that it undertook for the aircraft. [Sanjeet Singh Kaila v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 8170, decided on 02-5-2017]