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A-I Strike: 60 Flights Cancelled, Talks On

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Around 60 Air India flights were cancelled on the second day of the strike on Thursday by pilots who have been asked by the Delhi High Court to call off their stir.

The Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) held a meeting with the management and the union with the former insisting that it would not talk to a derecognised union and the agitators demanding restoration of recognition of their body and reinstatement of those sacked and suspended.

"We sent notices to the two sides to appear before us for talks. The meeting is going on", sources in the CLC office told PTI.

At the meeting, representatives of the airline management are understood to have refused to talk to the pilots, saying their union was not a recognised one and they had flouted court orders.

The pilots, on the other hand, insisted that the recognition of their union be restored and all the six sacked pilots be taken back, sources said.

The ICPA was de-recognised on Wednesday and its offices in various cities sealed.

Flyers at several airports bore the brunt of the strike with some complaining that they were not informed about the status of their flights and some coming to know about the flight cancellations only after reaching airports.

Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters that the conciliation proceedings were going on and "a solution can only be reached through conciliation."

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi has briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the entire issue, he said.

"We cannot say who is right or who is wrong. The minister (Ravi) has constituted a committee which will give its report to the government", Kharge said.

In Mumbai, Rishabh Kapur, the sacked General Secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots Associating (ICPA) which is spearheading the agitation, demanded a CBI probe into the alleged mismanagement of the airline which, he said, had led to the huge losses suffered by the company after the merger.

He also demanded ouster of the management charging it with being responsible for taking measures that led to Air India becoming a loss-making company.

In Delhi, 33 domestic and five international flights to Kathmandu, Kabul and Dubai were cancelled as the airline management decided to operate only those flights for which cabin crew as well as adequate pilots were available.

Similarly, unavailability of cockpit crew forced the national carrier to cancel around 19 flights, including two international ones, out of Mumbai.

"These cancellation have been done as per our contingency plan under which we had decided to operate only those flights for which pilots and cabin crew were available," an Air India official said.

The national carrier came up with a contingency schedule, reducing flights by 18 per cent or about 45 flights, a company official said, adding it has also strengthened its call centre to keep the passengers informed about their flight status.

Seven flights to destinations like Port Blair, Mumbai, Agartala, Dibrugarh, Delhi, Bagdogra and Imphal were cancelled from NSC Bose airport at Kolkata.

In Mumbai, the airline cancelled 12 departures including seven international flights and ten arrivals till 8.30 in the morning. ICPA sources claimed that 45 executive pilots have reported sick from Mumbai.

Eight flights to and from Chennai and five from Kerala cities to various destinations were cancelled.

Demanding a fixed salary, removal of Air India CMD and a CBI enquiry into the alleged mismanagement, 800 pilots went on strike from Tuesday midnight.

Yesterday, at least 40 Air India flights were cancelled on the first day of the strike by its pilots causing enormous hardship to thousands of travellers.

Taking a stern view of the strike, Air India management sacked six ICPA leaders including President Capt A S Bhinder and General Secretary Capt Rishabh Kapur, derecognised the union and sealed their offices across the country.

Also, the Delhi High Court asked the agitating pilots to call off their strike in "larger public interest".

Notwithstanding the Court order directing the agitating pilots to resume duties forthwith, ICPA leaders said, "We are continuing with our agitation as of now".

The ICPA leaders said they may move Supreme Court today after completing the legal consultations.

Taking a firm stand, the Minister had yesterday said Air India management's action against striking leaders was "right" and asserted that ICPA's demands cannot be accepted.

"Nobody can dictate terms to government, especially a few pilots. They are the highest paid people in this country and ... what they do is to try to threaten the government and dictate the Air India," Ravi had said, while appealing to the striking pilots and other employees to cooperate and help the airline come out of its crisis.