Dubai: Air India has cancelled its discount on the cargo fare for transporting human remains from the UAE, and stopped the free repatriation of mortal remains for distressed Indians as well, drawing flak from social workers here.

An official from India’s national carrier on Thursday confirmed that the airline cancelled the 50 per cent discount in freight charges it had been offering to transport the mortal remains of a person, from the UAE to India.

This has been done in accordance with The Air Cargo Tariff (Tact) rates stipulated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said a senior official who did not wish to be identified.

“As per the business rules of carriage of human remains in international stations, the IATA’s normal Tact rates are being applied by Air India all over its network, except in the UAE where we were giving 50 per cent discount. However, the headquarters has decided to unify the fares internationally as per the Tact rates effective September 19,” he said.

He said that the airline has also stopped flying the remains of disadvantaged Indian workers without freight charges, if recommended by Indian missions.

“When the consulate used to send a letter [to waive charges in the case of distressed Indians], it used to be accepted on a gratis basis. The freight charges were not taken. This has also been stopped now.”

The airline carried more than 800 bodies from Dubai and Sharjah to India last year.

Charges by weight

As per the new rates, all bodies are charged at a rate of Dh16.60 per kg to Mumbai, Dh19.10 to Delhi, Dh27.20 to Chennai and Hyderabad, Dh28.85 to Calicut and Dh29.08 to Kochi.

The same rates will also be applicable to the airline’s low-cost wing, Air India Express, the official confirmed.

These rates are exclusive of the handling fee and security fee fixed by the ground handlers at the respective airports. Those fees were borne by the Indian missions, out of the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) in the case of distressed Indians.

The Indian Ambassador to the UAE, Navdeep Singh Suri, said Indian missions remain committed to supporting the repatriation of indigent Indians through ICWF. “Principally, the employers or insurers are responsible for this (repatriation of bodies). If that doesn’t happen and the individual’s family is unable to pay, we will pay for the repatriation of mortal remains,” he assured.

He said the missions supported the repatriation of 49 deceased Indians through ICWF, till September this year.

Air India’s move comes at a time when social workers helping with the repatriation of mortal remains of distressed Indians were campaigning to stop the calculation of cargo fees based on the weight of the deceased person.

They are up in arms about the airline’s new decision that resulted in the doubling of cargo fares.

“This is not fair at all,” said Ashraf Thamarassery, who is well-known for his service in repatriating bodies of expats from the UAE. “National carriers of countries like Pakistan are carrying bodies free of cost. Some UAE and India-based airlines charge much lesser than Air India,” he added.

He wants the central government to take immediate action in this regard, as the airline has also stopped its humanitarian gesture to needy Indian workers.

Repatriation costs are not borne by employers all the time, social workers pointed out. “It’s very difficult in the case of unemployed and unidentified Indians and low-paid workers sometimes,” said Naseer Vatanappally, another social worker.

He suggests fixing the cargo fare for human remains at a reasonable rate, by all the Indian carriers.