Air India staff, residing in a sprawling – and largely deserted – compound in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, hope for relief from the Delhi High Court in wake of the Bombay High Court’s recent order restraining the airline from deducting penal rent and damage charges from the salary of employees residing in AI staff quarters in Mumbai’s Santacruz.
“We are now hopeful that we too might get some relief from the Delhi High Court and our salaries won’t be deducted,” an AI employee said on the condition of anonymity.
The employees and the airline have been at loggerheads over vacating the quarters since last year, and the pleas of 116 petitioners and residents will be heard by Delhi High Court on Tuesday.
“I had received a notice on December 29, 2022 regarding eviction from the residential colony and deduction of salary. Just two days after the notice, Rs 1,20,000 was cut from December salary leaving me with not enough money even to run my house,” the employee said.
“They even did not give us 14 days’ time after the notice as they knew we might knock on the doors of court against the notice,” said another AI employee.
The notice, a copy of which is with IANS, sent to Air India employees residing in Air India Colony at Kalina, Mumbai and Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, said a fine of Rs 15 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, respectively, will be deducted from their salaries and others.
In addition, residents were held liable for damage charges of Rs 15/10 lakh, and any liable charges, penal rent or damage charges would be recovered from salary/retirement/ service benefits and any financial benefits accrued or likely to accrue them in future.
The employees, who have not vacated their flats since August 2022, have had their salaries deducted since that month and it will continue till they vacate the properties.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation sent a letter to Air India on September 29, 2021, conveying that those not vacating their accommodations will have to pay the monthly rent at twice the market rate, in addition to the fine.
The residents claim that though the airline have been bought by Talace Private Ltd, a Special Purpose Vehicle of Tata Sons, it is still working on government directions. “Why isn’t the company supporting us? Instead they are transferring or giving punishment postings to us,” said a resident of the colony which houses cabin crew members, pilots, engineers and other staff.
In January 2022, Tata took over Air India, and around 800 families of employees living in the colony were told to vacate their homes. The employees living in the society in Kalina in Santa Cruz faced the same direction as well.
The airline staff quarters were not part of the privatisation deal and were transferred to Air India Asset Holding Ltd, a government-owned special purpose vehicle set up to handle non-core assets and 75 per cent of Air India’s debt.
The Bombay High Court, while hearing petitions filed last year by All India Service Engineers Association, Aviation Industry Employees Guild and Air Corporation Employees Union, on Friday had said that the AI shall also not deduct penal rent and damage charges till the next date which is February 22.
Meanwhile, the AI colony here, that used to be abuzz with kids playing here and there, residents gathering in groups, and elders taking a stroll in the evening, is in ruins now with barely anyone around.
Speaking to IANS, a colony resident noted that the eviction threat by the company has taken a toll on not just them but the kids as well.
“Mumma, I don’t want to go outside. It’s dark and I am scared,” said the 11-year-old son of an Air India employee, noting all the kids are now scared to play outside in the streets of the colony with no lights and unoccupied flats.
“And not just kids, even we are scared to go for a walk inside our own colony that is allotted to us,” said another employee, who has two young children.
The sudden eviction notice hit residents hard. “We never realised that we are working so hard only to face this today,” said a resident.
The colony, spread across 30 acres and sheltering 2,000 families initially, which later reduced to 800, and is now home to only 250 families, was largely found deserted by IANS correspondents.
Meanwhile, residents have been deprived of basic amenities like electricity and water.
Where there were 30 guards before, there are only five new guards, who say that they have been hired to take care of the property and not the “people” residing in the colony.
“I am a single parent and every time I have to go on long-haul flights, I have to call my elderly parents repeatedly to make sure they are safe with my son inside and if the doors are locked,” a resident chipped in, adding thefts have become common.
“In fact, only yesterday a robber tried getting inside our home from the back door,” the resident added.
The residents have urged the government to provide five to six acres in the colony to the members at market rates so they can build their own township.
“As few families are now living here, we proposed a plan to them in which we requested five to six acres to be given to us as per the market rate and we will build our own township. But no one paid heed to our request,” another employee and resident, on condition of anonymity, said.
“What will the government do with this 30 acres? They cannot construct high-rise buildings here as the underground metro route is beneath the colony. Why not sell it to us when we are also ready to monetise it as per market rate,” said the resident.