The Sindh High Court (SHC) allowed, on Saturday, a widow’s request to fast-track the hearing of the case against the Bhoja Airline’s management for allegedly compelling the crash victims’ families to sign an ‘illegal’ clearance agreement.
Sajida, the widow of one of the victims of the 127 passengers onboard Bhoja Air’s ill-fated Flight B4-213, has taken the airline’s management to court for forcing the bereaved families to sign a deceitful agreement. She said that her husband, Gul Zaman, was among the dozens onboard who died when the flight crashed on April 26, 2012.
The petitioners recalled that after the fateful incident, which left many families in shock and mourning, the airline published a public notice in national newspapers, pledging to pay Rs500,000 as immediate compensation to each family. Also the airline announced that the rest of the compensation would be provided to the legal heirs of each deceased upon the showing of a succession certificate issued by a court of law.
The petitioner told the judges that, at that time, there were no terms and conditions put by the airline to sign any agreement. Now, the families are being compelled to sign a ‘Release and Discharge Agreement’ upon the payment of the compensation.
The widow claimed that the airline is attempting to claim global immunity under ‘No Fault Liability’, adding that, in this way, the respondent is further trying to save a number of companies. “The agreement is a violation of Rule 17 and 21 of the Fifth Schedule of the Carriage Air Act 2012,” the petitioner’s lawyer, Muhammad Wasi Khan Yousufzai, argued. “Even after the compensation payment of Rs500,000, the airline will have to prove that the incident, which resulted in the loss of 127 lives, did not take place due to any fault of their own.”
Citing the example of an Air Blue flight crash, the petitioner contended that the legal heirs were not required to sign any ‘Release and Discharge Agreement’ with the airline on that occasion. In her petition, the widow - mother of five - had pleaded to the court to order the airline to not compel the families into signing such an agreement.
On Saturday, Yousufzai requested to the judges to order the fast tracking of the case, as ordered by the SHC Chief Justice.
Yousufzai disclosed that the airline would make the unilateral payment of the compensation only after signing the agreement in the upcoming days. Therefore, the hearing should be fixed for an early date so that a verdict can be reached before that.
Justice Irfan Saadat Khan, who headed the bench, allowed the request and fixed March 6 as the hearing date.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2014.