Air India jets at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. (File Photo) Image Credit: AP

Dubai: India’s national carrier Air India (AI) has decided to implement uniform charges for flying human remains from the UAE to India, stopping the much-criticised method of calculating it based on the weight of the bodies, the airline told Gulf News on Friday.

The decision, applicable on all flights from the UAE to all destinations in India by Air India and its low cost arm Air India Express, took effect from Saturday, and follows the persistent protest campaigns of Indians in the UAE.

“Now, there will be a fixed charge as per the long-standing request of people here,” a senior official of the airline, who did not wish to be named, said.

“It will be a flat rate of Dh1,500 on all mortal remains irrespective of destination and weight of the body. There will be a 50 per cent discount in the case of children below 12,” he said.

The official added that the airline is implementing the same scheme in all the GCC countries. The freight charges will be fixed at 160 Omani Riyal, 175 Kuwait Dinar, 2,200 Saudi Riyal and 225 Bahraini Dinar.

The airline’s headquarters in New Delhi has issued a circular in this regard.

The Indian Consulate in Dubai has been informed about the move verbally, a consulate official told Gulf News.

“We are yet to get the details in writing,” he said.

Air India’s method of calculating the freight charges based on the weight of the deceased had been widely criticised by Indian expats, especially the social workers in the UAE who have been campaigning relentlessly against it.

A source said the fee included the weight of the coffin and people used to pay from Dh1200 to Dh2500 based on the total weight. “Sometimes it used to go up to more than Dh3000.”

Mixed reactions

Social workers who had campaigned against the discrimination of the deceased based on their weight had mixed reactions on Friday as some still demanded that the airline should provide the service either free or at more affordable price.

Ashraf Thamarassery, who has filed a litigation in India’s Supreme Court seeking free repatriation services by Air India, claimed that the airline rushed to fix the rate because of the case.

“I filed the writ petition on October 4 and the registration number is 2210. There are other airlines who charge lesser than Dh1,500 to India. I had sought the waiving of all the charges for repatriating bodies from abroad and also sought assistance from state governments to provide free transportation of the bodies from the local airports in India to the houses or places of funeral.”

Nandi Nazar, who had sent a memorandum against Air India to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other ministers, said he feels the fixed charge by the national carrier is still high.

“I am sure there will still be many people who will have to struggle to pay this fee.”

However, Naseer Vatanappally, who also assists the Indian consulate with repatriation of bodies, welcomed the move and said making the service free of charge will cause delays in repatriation.

“I have always said that there should be a fixed rate. If it is made free, everyone will depend on Air India. There will be long delays as many companies, who are legally bound to repatriate the deceased employees’ bodies, will be unwilling to send the bodies on other airlines on time. I appreciate that the fee is only Dh750 now for sending the bodies of children.”

In September, the airline had kicked up furore when it announced scrapping the discounts on the cargo fare for transporting human remains from the UAE.

However, following the community’s protest which they also took up with the visiting Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh, the airline quickly revoked its decision to cancel the 50 per cent discount, and to stop the free repatriation of mortal remains of distressed