New Delhi, May 23 - Making an attempt to end the over two-week impasse, Government today offered to take back 101 sacked Air India pilots on a case-by-case basis and made a fresh appeal to the protesters to return to work even as the Delhi High Court slapped contempt notices on 67 pilots and their union for disobeying court orders.
"There is no bar on taking anybody back but it will be done on a case by case basis," Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters here.
"We have said it again and again that we are willing to talk and I have committed that in Parliament. Please come back to work. There will be no victimisation," he said.
"They are not willing to talk unconditionally. They have conditions. It is an illegal strike," Singh said, adding that Air India management was taking "whatever action they need to take".
With the agitating pilots refusing to get back to work, the AI management moved a contempt petition in the High Court, accusing them of "flagrant violation" of the court order which had declared the strike as illegal.
While issuing notices to 67 pilots and the Indian Pilots Guild, spearheading the agitation by over 200 pilots which has spilled over to the 16th day, Justice Reva Khetrapal hoped better sense will prevail on them.
"Nobody is concerned with the plight of the passengers as somebody might have to see a person on a death bed... Some must have missed an important meeting or an important interview," she observed. The matter will now come up on July 13.
Following the day's developments, the IPG said they were willing to straightaway talk to the minister if the sack orders against 101 pilots were withdrawn.
IPG Joint Secretary Tauseef Mukadam said, "We are absolutely ready to talk to the Honourable Minister...We are willing to go right now."
Asked what will be the way out, Mukadam said, "We don't want our core demands to be met right now. Take back the pilots and give us an assurance that these demands will be discussed. ... We are not putting a gun on anyone's head or ever intend to do so. We are willing to join duty right now.
It can be done in 15 minutes."
So far, services of 101 pilots have been terminated for reporting sick and not joining duty. The airline management is disinclined to take back nearly a dozen office bearers of the IPG, which has been derecognised.
"There is a clear disconnect between what the Minister has said in Parliament that there will be no victimisation and what the management was doing by sacking 101 pilots," Mukadam said.
"Despite all our efforts to reach out to the management, they have refused to respond so far. Instead of responding to our overtures, they further terminated services of 30 more pilots, taking the total to 101," he said.
Hit by the agitation, Air India is operating a curtailed international flight schedule as part of a contingency plan and stopped taking fresh bookings till June 1.
On May 9, the Court had restrained the pilots from continuing their "illegal strike", reporting sick and staging demonstrations.
Lalit Bhasin, counsel for Air India management said despite the court's restraint order, several opportunities were given to the striking pilots to resolve their issues but they failed to settle the matter.
Bhasin said the pilots can be tried for civil contempt under the Civil Procedure Code, that entails a punishment of three months jail term.
The pilots are agitating over the rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training and matters relating to their career progression.
The IPG also accused the airline management of financial irregularities in leasing of planes, saying that the airline had incurred a loss of Rs 4,324.28 crore over five years from 2005 on account of leased aircraft operations alone.
Later, reacting to the allegation, the Civil Aviation Minister told reporters, "If they make any credible complaint, we will examine it and take action.
"What they have said in the press, they haven't given to me as a complaint. Any credible complaint will be looked into," he said.
Mukadam and his IPG colleagues also claimed that 18 wide -body aircraft of Air India were grounded at Delhi airport while the airline was planning to wet-lease planes to run its long-haul international operations.
They also accused the management of "reneging" on their promises about their demands relating to Dreamliner training and career progression.
Asked about the fitness test which is mandatory after 14 days of remaining sick, he said, "We have to undergo such routine medical check-ups every year. It is not that we have to compulsorily appear before the medical board on the 15th day itself. We have to do it before we join duty". PTI