The Karnataka High Court in a recent order quashed the private complaint and the cognizance taken on it by a trial court at Managluru in 2013, against the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the Air India Ltd. (AI) and its executives in regards to the Air India Express 812 plane crash incident that took place outside Mangaluru airport in 2010 as a consequence of which 158 persons on board were killed.
A single bench presided by Justice Ashok G. Nijagannavar passed the order while allowing the petitions filed in 2013 by AAI and its executive Ansbert D'Souza, and AI and its executive Peter Abraham, who challenged the cognisance taken by the magistrate court merely on the basis of "deemed sanction" for their prosecution. The High Courthas held that a magistrate court in Mangaluru which initiated the proceedings against the officials did not follow due process of law and overlooked the court of inquiry’s report on the accident.
The court while quashing the complaint observed the following "Trial court has failed to consider the closure of the earlier chargesheet on the reason that the pilots who have been arraigned as accused have expired in the air crash and also the report of Court of Inquiry."
The complaints said the accident was the direct consequence of gross and willful negligence on the part of Air India, AAI and the DGCA. The airline and AAI filed criminal petitions in the Karnataka High Court challenging the magistrate’s order.
The trial court based its decision on the case of the Supreme Court reported in (2012) 3 SCC 64 Subramanain Swamy which relates to prosecution under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act wherein the Supreme Court has referred the guidelines framed by CVC regarding sanction and further added in the present case the allegation is in respect of negligence and offence punishable under section 304A of IPC, both of which have nothing to do with the Prevention of Corruption act.
Furthermore, he bench also took into account that section 32 of the Airport Authority of India Act specifies that all officers and employees of Airport Authority of India (AAI) shall be deemed to be public servants within the meaning of section 21 of IPC. Additionally, section 33 of AAI act specifies that no suit prosecution or any proceeding shall lie against the AAI or any member or any officer or any other employee of AAI for anything done in good faith or any damage sustained by any aircraft or vehicle in consequences of any defect in any airport, civil enclaves, heliports, airstrips, aeronautical communication station or other things belonging to or under the control of authority.
Following that the complainant, having approached the magistrate court for issuance of process on the pretext of deemed sanction, is not tenable. In addition, The Magistrate court need not act as a sanctioning authority. Section 197 of CrPC does not provide for any deemed sanction.
In conclusion, it was held that the trial court has failed to consider the closure of the earlier charge sheet on the reason that the pilots who have been arraigned as accused have expired in the air crash and also the report of court of inquiry. In view of the amended subsection (1) of section 202 of CrPC, it is obligatory upon the magistrate that before summoning the accused residing beyond his jurisdiction, he shall enquire into the case himself or direct investigation to be made by the police officer or by such other person for finding out whether or not there was sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused. In the case at hand no such attempt is done by the magistrate. Also the court ruled that since the civil aviation ministry which is the sanctioning authority in the case did not grant its approval for prosecution the complaint was liable to be quashed.