Saturday, May 22, 2010

[Goanet] IN THE NEWS-ESG: "Mangalore Air Crash Tragic Fallout of Criminal Negligence of Planning and Regulatory Authorities

Its one thing to hurtle deeper into modernity or adhuniktaif you will, yet something else to ignore the conscientious and aware among our midst, which are astute people like Leo F. Saldanha, Coordinator, Environment Support Group; and Arthur Pereira, Environment Support Group and Trustee/ Spokesperson, Vimana Nildhana Vistarana Virodhi Samithi, Bajpe, Mangalore.

Imagine, this could have been any one of us in the recent
Mangalore Crash. And all for the cockiness of "chalta hai." (vjp)


Mangalore Air Crash Tragic Fallout of Criminal Negligence of
Planning and Regulatory Authorities

An Air India Express Boeing 737-800 aircraft arriving from
Dubai with 167 on board 2010 tragically crashed at
International Airport at 6.30 am today (22 May 2010). It is
reported that the plane overshot the runway while landing and
fell over a cliff resulting in this disastrous crash. Very
few are known to have survived this horrific crash.

This was no accident, but the direct result of deliberate
failure of officials at the highest level in the Director
General of Civil Aviation, Airports Authority of India,
Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Government of
for allowing this 2
nd runway to be built in criminal
negligence of applicable norms and standards.

Such a strong charge is being made as the likelihood of this
kind of a crash (the worst case scenario) was predicted. A
series of Public Interest
Litigations were fought by the
undersigned to stop the construction of this 2
nd runway in
Mangalore airport on grounds that the design simply did not
conform to the most basic national and international
standards of airport design. The
PILs also highlighted that
the airport does not conform with the most minimum safeguards
for emergency situations -- particularly during landings and
takeoffs, and could not have emergency approach roads within
a kilometre on all sides of the airport as required.

It is truly sad that because of the failure of key decision
makers at the highest levels so many innocent lives have been
lost. It is quite possible that many lives were lost as
emergency rescue teams could not access the crash site due to
the difficult terrain (a valley) for over a hour after the
incident, even though it was proximal to the site.1

Vimana Nildana Vistharana Virodhi Samithi (Local Communities
Alliance Against Airport Expansion),
Bajpe and Environment
Support Group had repeatedly highlighted the high risk
expansion of the
Mangalore airport during the late 1990s. The
expansion was proposed to enable flight movements of wide
aircrafts, such as Airbus A 320.

Authorities were repeatedly informed that the proposal did
not at all conform with the standards prescribed for runway
design as laid down by the Director General of Civil
Aviation, National Building Code of India and Ministry of
Civil Aviation. Further, considering that the airport was
proposed for international flights, a case was also made that
the 2
nd runway could not conform with International Civil
Aviation Authority standards due to terrain limitations.

No one in authority cared to listen to our fervent pleas.
This even when we demonstrated through a variety of
representations that that the site chosen for expansion at
Bajpe was surrounded by deep valleys on three sides of the
runway and did not provide for emergency landing areas as

This neglect of our legitimate concerns forced us to move the
High Court of
Karnataka in a PIL in 1997 (Arthur Pereira and
ors. vs. Union of India and ors., WP No. 37681/1997). A key
concern raised was that the 2
nd runway in Mangalore could not
meet the standards required in dealing with an emergency,
particularly during landings and takeoffs -- a time when air
crashes are most likely to happen.

The Airports Authority of India filed an affidavit in Court
dismissing all our concerns and stated this, amongst other

It is submitted that as regards the apprehensions
of the petitioner that the length and width of the
runway is insufficient for a plane making an
emergency landing, the same is without any basis.
It is respectfully submitted that all the
requirements as per the
ICAO recommendation will be
met and that there has been no infringement of any
of the recommendation and limitation therein.

(Copy of this affidavit dated 14 October 1998 is
accessible at:

On the basis of this affidavit,
Hon'ble Chief Justice Mr. Y.
Bhaskar Rao and the Hon'ble Mr. Justice A. M. Farooq (as
their Lordships then were) dismissed this
PIL ordering as

It is stated that the fear of the petitioners that
the runway is insufficient for any emergency
landing of a plane is without any basis since
before the project is to proceed, the authorities
will be meeting the recommendations of the
is also stated that there is no basis for the
allegations made by the petitioners to the effect
that the various safety measures have not been
followed. That on the other hand they will be
getting all the relevant materials described by the
petitioners which will be followed in letter and
spirit without which the airport would not have
been conceived in the first place.

Thus it can be seen that the expansion of
airport project is at the initial stage and the
second respondent has in their objections mentioned
above unequivocally stated that all the safety
measures etc., stated by the petitioners in their
writ petition will be followed during the progress
of the project and nothing can be said before the
lands are handed over to the second respondent.

Considering these facts, we are of the view that
the petitioners have rushed to this court before
commencement of the project itself and the writ
petition is premature. It is not, therefore,
necessary to consider the various grounds taken by
the petitioners in the writ petition to allege that
the respondents have been proceeding with the
project in a casual manner. There is nothing to
doubt about the statement made by the second
respondent in their objection statement and we are
sure that the respondents will be taking all
necessary measures under the different enactments
etc.., before proceeding with the project in
question. The writ petition stands dismissed.

(Emphasis added. A copy of this order is accessible
at: )

Even though alternative sites existed, the authorities
proceeded obstinately to expand the airport yielding to
pressures from business, real estate and hotel lobbies who
benefited immensely from an airport at
Bajpe. Politicians
keen to make the expansion a part of their legacy overlooked
all concerns raised.

Even at the existing
Bajpe alternative sites existed to
expand the airport, that conformed with most safety norms,
but this site was not pursued as it would affect large
landholders and influential people. Consequently, nothing
whatsoever was done to respond to the concerns we raised
about the risks involved in the 2
nd runway.

The Airport Authority did not even have a proper feasibility
study, and claimed that such a critical information detail
would only be prepared after the land was acquired for the
airport. Surely this amounted to putting the cart before the
horse, for the study, even if eventually prepared, would have
been tailor made to justify the decision to so expand the

Distressed by such a turn of events and the absolute lack of
compliance with applicable norms and standards, we appealed
to the
ICAO to intervene in the matter. The ICAO did not
respond and so we returned to the High Court with a fresh
in 2002. In this exhaustively researched
PIL many significant
concerns were raised and a case was made that the 2
nd runway
could not conform with
ICAO norms for the following reasons:

Minimum Area for Stop-way: At page 155 of the said
ICAO) report, para 2-1 prescribes standards for
providing the minimum area for a stop way and/or a
clear way in the event an aircraft undershoots or
over-runs the runway. For instance, if an aircraft
has initiated take off, and a technical flaw
requires emergency stop, the standard prescribes
the minimum area that should be kept free to enable
such a stop. In the instant case, the runway
distance itself is about 2400 metres, and even if
the area left is most cautiously utilised, what is
left is only about 300 metres on each end of the

By the prescribed standard, this is far below the
required distance needed for an emergency stop way.
Therefore, the chances of an aircraft that has
achieved the decision speed forcing an emergency
stop are critically minimised, and the inevitable
consequence could be that the plane would come
crashing down the hillsides from a height of 80-100
metres on either side of the proposed runway.
(Emphasis added. A copy of the
PIL is accessible
at: )

The High Court of
Karnataka dismissed this PIL initiative by
their order dated 27 May 2002 (WP 20905/2002) stating the

No doubt, in an appropriate case, this Court can
issue directions, if there is gross violation of
fundamental rights or if the issue touches the
conscience of this Court, but not for personal gain
or political gain. The construction of 2
nd Runway
and Terminal Tower in
Mangalore Airport will
otherwise be in the interest of public.

Learned Counsel has not been able to show how the
construction of 2
nd Runway and Terminal Tower in
Mangalore Airport will be against the public
interest. On consideration and in the facts of the
given case no direction as prayed for can be issued
in this
PIL. The authorities concerned have to
complete all formalities as per law before
commencement of the project. Accordingly, this Writ
petition is dismissed.

However, it is made clear that dismissal of this
petition will not preclude the concerned
Authorities to take all necessary precaution and to
complete the formalities as per law before
proceeding with the project in question.

(Emphasis added)

In a desperate effort to stop the
Mangalore airport from so
expanding and needlessly exposing innocent people to
unnecessary risk, we went on appeal against the High Court
order to the
Hon'ble Supreme Court of India. Dismissing the
appeal, the Supreme Court ruled 07 February 2003 in
Environment Support Group and
ors. vs. Union of India and
ors. [SLP(C) 1172 OF 2003] as follows:

We see no reason to interfere with the impugned
order. Accordingly, the special leave petition is
dismissed. We, however, clarify that in
constructing the Airport, the Government shall
comply with all applicable laws and also with
environmental norms. (Emphasis added. A copy of
this order can be accessed at:

One hopes with the benefit of hindsight that the Director
General of Civil Aviation or Airports Authority of India had
complied with this order of the Supreme Court and ensured
Mangalore airport was developed in full conformance with
applicable laws, standards and norms.

In case the current site was not feasible, they could have
easily explored alternate sites, as such sites did exist --
Bajpe itself, or even in Padubidri, between Mangalore
Udupi. Instead, the authorities preferred to view the
Supreme Court order as a victory, as did the
Government and
Mangalore Chamber of Commerce and Industry
which had systematically campaigned for the expansion.

Without any further hesitation the 2
nd runway construction
began in 2004 and was commissioned in May 2006. No
techno-economic assessment, feasibility study, or even an
comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment was ever done for
the 2
nd Runway. Simply put, the runway was built in
comprehensive violation of applicable laws, standards and
direction of the
Hon'ble Supreme Court.

On 8
th March 2004, we wrote to Dr. Naseem Zaidi, Chairman
Addl. Charge) & Joint Secretary, Airport Authority of India,
Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, reminding
him of the need to comply with the Supreme Court direction.

In particular we highlighted that "such action would
jeopardize passenger safety, put local communities to risk,
needlessly dislocate people by acquiring land on a location
that in no way could comply with the said provisions and
thereby contributed to gross wastage of public money and
resources." We did not get any response.

Six years later today we are mourning the unfortunate death
of so many people who should have been alive. We are clear
that this is no accident, but a direct result of the series
of deliberate failures of officials and key decision makers
at the highest levels of all authorities connected with the
decision to allow the 2
nd runway to be constructed and
commissioned. Of course all sorts of explanations will be on
offer, but none of that can bring lost lives back or cure the
tragedy that has wrongly befallen so many families.

India today is frenetically building airports all
over, and for all sorts of flaky reasons. Such is
the political, bureaucratic and corporate pressure
to build and expand airports that anyone questing
the rationale is quickly dubbed as a "busybody",
"useless interloper", "promoted by vested interest"
and raising "frivolous" concerns.

To ensure such incidents do not recur, we demand that the
Union Minister of Civil Aviation orders an impartial
Commission of Enquiry into the causative factors of this
crash, especially investigating the absolute lack of
conformance with basic runway design standards and emergency
approach measures.

As a small tribute to those who lost their lives in this
tragic air crash, ESG offers to assist crash affected
families to initiate a damage suits against the Government.
We will also initiate criminal negligence proceedings against
all authorities connected with the decision to commission the
2nd runway at Mangalore in violation of the directions of the
Hon'ble Supreme Court. We take these corrective actions in
the hope they would serve as a deterrence against the
lackadaisical approach to critical decisions by key decision

Leo F. Saldanha
Environment Support Group
Cell: 9448377403

Arthur Pereira
Environment Support Group and
Vimana Nildhana Vistarana Virodhi Samithi, Bajpe, Mangalore
Cell: 9449208264/9481439921

1 That such a crash has occurred at the Mangalore airport is
unpardonable as a similar crash had occurred at this airport
over a decade ago. Fortunately the plane did not tip over
into the valley and all passengers, including Union Law
Minister Mr. Veerappa Moily, were fortunate to escape..

2 This safety standard of ICAO also applies to air crafts
when landing. It is truly sad that today's tragic air crash
could be a consequence of the lack of conformance with this

For further details, contact:
Environment, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives,
Environment Support Group - Trust, 1572, 36th Cross,
Banashankari II Stage Bangalore 560070
Tel: 91-80-26713559-61 Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316 Email: Web:

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