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PIL in Delhi High Court seeks change in VT call sign displayed on Indian aircraft

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A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking a direction to the Centre to change Call Sign VT written on Indian aircraft which stands for Victorian Territory and Viceroy Territory, a legacy of the British Raj, in order to secure Sovereignty, Rule of Law (Article 14), Right to Freedom (Article 19) and Right to Dignity (Article 21).

The petition has been filed by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in-person.

According to the PIL, the prefix VT stands for Victorian Territory and Viceroy Territory, which is the nationality code that each aircraft registered in India is required to carry. The code is generally seen just before the rear exit door and above the windows. All domestic airlines have the prefix, which is followed by unique alphabets that define the aircraft and who it belongs to. For example, on Indigo flights the registration VT is followed by IDV, i.e., VT-IDV, for Jet, it is VT-JMV.

The prefix marks that the aircraft has been registered in the country and it is mandatory in all countries. The registration of the aircraft is required to appear in its Certificate of Registration and an aircraft can only have one registration in one jurisdiction, states the PIL.

“Britain set the prefix VT for all the colonies in 1929. But countries like China, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka changed their Call Signs after independence. While in India, the prefix has remained on the aircraft even after 93 years, which offends Sovereignty, Rule of Law (Article 14), Right to Freedom (Article 19) and Right to Dignity (Article 21).”

The petitioner submitted that the registration number of Indian aircraft marks the legacy of British Raj. VT code is a reflection of colonial rule. India is a sovereign country hence cannot be a territory of the Viceroy. Why is India continuing with the VT code? The efforts of the government to change the registration code have been fruitless. In 2004, the aviation ministry approached the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to change the code but no decision has been taken so far. It is a code given to us in 1929 by British rulers, denoting us as British territory. It’s very unfortunate that India, even after 75 years of Independence, retains VT, the symbol of slavery.

It is highlighted in the PIL , that the use of VT symbol denotes us still being Victorian Territory and Viceroy Territory but the government refuses to get it changed or even make an effort after 75 years of Independence. The petitioner submits that most of the countries which went through colonial servitude have got rid of their colonial signs and launched their own code. VT is not a symbol of pride but a matter of shame, if we are still using it when our nation is free.

“Even our Prime Minister travels to meet world leaders in Air India One B747-437, with a call sign VT-EVB. Is the Prime Minister a leader of a free democratic country or of a Viceroy Territory?Pakistan had their call sign changed to AP after bifurcation. Similarly, Bahamas changed the sign from ‘VP-B’ to ‘C6’, Nepal changed to ‘9N’, Sri Lanka from ‘VP-C’ to ‘4R’ and Zimbabwe from ‘VP-W’ to ‘Z’.”

The petitioner further submitted that the display of call signs is a must according to international laws governed by the UN, which specifies that every aircraft of every nation must specify the name of the country to which it belongs, using a Unique Alpha-Numeric Code. The code containing five characters should have two alphabets, that is the country’s code (VT in India’s case) and the rest shows which company owns the aircraft.

As per rules set by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), each aircraft has to be registered in a country, where it is allotted a registration number which has two letters as the country code, followed by three letters of owners or the carrier’s choice, like VT-123 in case of an Indian aircraft. In fact, the series VA to VZ were assigned to aircraft registered in British territories. Many countries changed their codes after independence. VT was assigned to India during the International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington, signed on 25.11.1927. After 75 years of independence, there is one colonial legacy that continues to fly high over the Indian skies: civilian aircraft registered in India continue to carry the prefix VT, standing for Viceroy’s Territory. The government is hesitant to change the registration.

Use of Call Sign ‘VT’ on Indian Aircraft is an insult to India as it was Shivkar Bapuji Talpade who made the first aircraft (Marutsakha) and flew it over Mumbai’s Chowpatty in 1895, eight years before the Wright Brothers. The Marutsakhawas based on Sage Bharadwaj’s aviation knowledge, which included war planes and aircraft doubling up as submarines. Ancient Sanskrit literature is full of descriptions of flying machines i.e. vimanas. From the many documents found it is evident that scientist-sages Agastya and Bharadwaj had developed the lore of aircraft construction. A paper on aviation says Bharadwaj prescribed a suitable suit for pilots and mentioned “25 types of viruses in the atmosphere which attack the human skin, bones and the whole body”. The pilot’s attire would be “virus-proof, water-proof and shock-proof”. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (editor of Kesari) had put in an editorial. It was also reported by two other English newspapers, a terse account. Eminent Indian judge Mahadeva Govinda Ranade and King of Baroda Sayaji Rao Gaekwad witnessed the flight. This is conclusive proof that Indians were way ahead of the world in science and technology. Thus, using the flight code VT is not only a symbol of British oppression which existed in India for a long time, but it is also an insult to India’s heritage and culture, states the PIL.

“International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) assign the call sign. Futile efforts were made in the past regarding the change of call sign for our nation’s aircraft but all was in vain, as they responded by saying that India could not get BA (Bharat) and IN (India) as China and Italy have already taken up the ‘B’ and ‘I’, respectively,”. The then Civil Aviation Minister Mr. Praful Patel had stated that because India could not get a code of its choice, it will function with “VT’ only. This is absurd, as on researching call signs for various other countries, petitioner found that more than one country uses the same primary alphabet with differing secondary alphabets. For example, Argentina, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Norway, use the signs ‘LV/LQ’, ‘LZ’, ‘LY’, ‘LX’ and ‘LN’, respectively. Similarly, Haiti, Honduras, Korea and Panama use ‘HH’, ‘HR’, ‘HL’ and ‘HP’, respectively,” the PIL reads.

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