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Kanishka bombing: Air India refutes charges

Last updated on: March 20, 2008 10:16 IST

In a statement to rediff.com, Air India's Toronto-based attorney Soma Ray-Ellis said on Wednesday, "After 22 years, Air India has been the only party to accept blame and it is only after this (public) inquiry that Canadians have known all of the players who were involved in this tragedy."

Implicitly referring to the criticism of Air India by Raj Anand, attorney for some members of Air India victims families, Ray-Ellis said, "Blaming Air India any further is unfair, given that the bombing would not have taken place if CP (Canadian Pacific Airlines) had not violated their own rules, and interlined baggage without a confirmed seat with Air India."

It also implicitly refers to what came out in testimonies before Justice John Major that one L Singh's baggage was checked-in by CP Air out of Vancouver on the connecting Air India flight from Toronto to New Delhi without the passenger having confirmed booking on the connecting Air India flight and the passenger himself not even beingĀ on board the flight.

It is that baggage, widely stated, that contained the device that exploded disintegrating Kanishka in mid-air on June 23, 1985.

"The bomb would also not have been on the plane if CP had informed Air India that a rogue/unauthorised bag was on board without a passenger in compliance with IATA rules," Ellis-Ray noted.

"In the early 1980s, airlines nor the regulatory regime that governs aviation understood that passenger baggage reconciliation should be done for interconnecting airlines. Air India, for its own customers, carried out baggage passenger reconciliation, but there was a gap that no one understood to be a gap. It was expected that CP would have informed Air India and it was thought that that would have taken care of baggage passenger reconciliation issues between the two airlines. That did not happen," Ellis-Ray said.

In an interview with rediff.com and earlier in his presentation before the commission, victims' families lawyer Raj Anand was critical of Air India as they waited for four months before testifying before the commission.

And he argued that the testimony of their Canada manager Rajesh Chopra and their Mumbai-based attorney T N Kumar, "clearly showed that Air India had a lot more warning than people thought; they were aware of threats. But they were completely in disarray in terms of security aspects."

He called Air India's security programme 'demonstrably deficient' and 'a major factor in the failure to prevent the bombing of Flight 182.'

Anand pointed out that flight 182 was allowed to fly "out of Mirable Airport in Montreal) without a sniffer-dog check. Air India," he said, "at least partially based its decision to release the Mirabel flight without further security checks on the cost of keeping the plane on the ground."

In her response to such criticisms, Ellis-Ray called it "disheartening to hear comments about Air India witness issues, given that Chopra, current manager of Air India in Canada, appeared at the commission three times" and "Air India has cooperated fully."

While expressing Air India's "deepest sympathies to the families," Ellis-Ray said Air India "supported the comments of the family members regarding systemic discrimination."

This, she emphasised, "is not meant to attack any members of the law enforcement agencies because often they themselves were the victims of systemic failures including the lack of representation of Punjabi speaking translators and South Asians who understood the dynamics of the social, linguistic, and geo-political issues which played a role."

"The institutions of government," the Air India attorney suggested, "must reflect the population it serves if we are to develop an effective approach to dealing with terrorism" as "the true message here," she concluded, is "it cannot be done by airlines alone."

Ajit Jain in Toronto