The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Court shoots down pilot marital plea
- Indian Air Force gets a boost in war against poachers

New Delhi, Dec. 15: Delhi High Court today refused to permit an Indian Air Force pilot to retire prematurely from service after he pleaded that frequent transfers during his career was making his marital life difficult.

Squadron Leader S. Tyagi had petitioned the court saying his wife had issued notice of dissolution of marriage because the demands of his job were not permitting a stable family life. But the court has refused to accept this as reason enough to leave the service.

The court ruling has come as a shot in the arm for air headquarters that is at pains to keep pilots from seeking to leave the air force for lucrative jobs with private airlines.

“An Indian Air Force officer at the time of induction takes an oath to make supreme sacrifices for the country and is very well aware of the exigencies involved with the job and postings. As such he cannot complain that it was affecting his marital life,” a bench headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal said.

The officer had gone to court after his request to leave the service was rejected by air headquarters. Air Chief Shashi Tyagi had earlier made it clear that the IAF cannot work with “cockpit vacancies”. Posts in the armed force that are categorised as “to be manned” simply cannot be left vacant for any length of time.

Squadron Leader Tyagi was one of at least 20 IAF pilots who are understood to have sought to leave the service ostensibly on personal grounds but air headquarters suspects that the boom in the aviation industry was making private airlines poach on the armed force.

In his petition, Squadron Leader Tyagi said he was transferred six times in eight years of service. His wife, a dentist in a government hospital in Haryana, had served him notice for dissolution of marriage, he said.

But counsel for the IAF argued that he was trying to leave because of the demand for pilots from private airlines. The IAF says it spends an enormous amount of money and energy to train its pilots and that the investment was made for security reasons and not because the service can be turned into a paradise for headhunters from private industry.

“My fighting force has to be in the cockpit. Our civil aviation (industry) has grown by 25 per cent. The price of aircrew is moving up rapidly. Our problem is how to retain our aircrew.' Pilot poaching is a threat,” Air Chief Tyagi had voiced his concern publicly.

“But it is not easy to leave the service. Our personnel work on contract on the pleasure of the President of India and they have to serve till the President so desires. I have my own cockpit vacancies to take care of.”

Earlier this year, the government had rejected requests from an estimated 20 air force pilots to leave the service. An IAF officer can seek premature retirement but it is up to the government to take a view on such pleas. The officer is entitled to pension after 20 years of service.

“The requests for acceptance of premature retirement/resignation from the pilots are considered according to government instructions,” defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a reply to Parliament in July. “Only those pilots who are superseded or are in low medical category or have extreme compassionate grounds are released from service.”

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