Chandigarh, June 2 :
The Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday asked the central government to take up the issue of discrimination by the US government against Indian victims of 1986 Pan-Am flight 73 hijack case.
A division bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, while disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by the brother of bravery award winner flight purser Neerja Bhanot, said that it was “for the government of India to take up the issue keeping in mind the representation made by the petitioner dated Jan 6, 2014, and the material placed on record before us”.
Pan-Am chief purser Neerja Bhanot was gunned down by terrorists who had entered the aircraft posing as Pakistani Police personnel. Flight 73 was hijacked in Karachi by terrorists from Libya Sep 5, 1986. The flight crew risked their lives to save passengers, mostly US citizens, from being killed.
Bhanot, 23, gave up her own life when she tried to save three US children from bullets of the terrorists.
Bhanot, who hailed from Chandigarh, was the youngest and first woman recipient of the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, in 1987.
The US administration headed by President George W. Bush had, in 2008, excluded Indian victims from getting compensation and closure from funds given by Libya to the US in 2008 to compensate the victims of various Libya-related terrorist crimes who had filed suits against Libya in US courts.
In his petition, Neerja’s brother Aneesh Bhanot sought directions to the Indian government through the ministries of home, civil aviation, external affairs as well as many US airlines such as Delta, United, US Air, American Airlines and Boeing to take up the issues pertaining to the safety and security of Indian passengers on-board US airlines in case of a terrorist attack and not allow the US to abandon Indians like they did in the case of Pan-Am 73.
During hearing, lawyer Ranjan Lakhanpal told the court that even though the US government had been paid $1.5 bn by the Libyan government to compensate the victims of the hijacking, the US authorities discriminated against Indians killed and injured in the attack and decided that the money would be paid only to US citizens.
As many as 13 Indians were killed and around 120 Indian passengers were injured in the attack.
Lakhanpal said that the issue of discrimination was taken up with the US government a number of times but no positive response was given by it. He said that even the Indian government had adopted a very evasive stand on the issue.