Security at airports has acquired a different meaning since September 11, 2001, as it has taught that aircraft could be used as weapons of mass destruction, the Delhi high court said on Tuesday.
The attack on the World Trade Centre in New York 15 years ago killed around 2,900 people.
The court’s observation came as it dismissed the plea of service-provider to Emirates Airline passengers at the IGI airport in the Capital, that challenged government’s decision to deny security clearance to it on the basis of adverse reports received from security agency.
The court said it does not find “any error” in denial of security clearance to the entity, M/s Add Lounge Services Pvt Ltd, as “larger public interest has to prevail over private interest”.
“Airport security since September 11, 2001 incident, leading to the fall of World Trade Centre in New York, has acquired a different meaning. The same has taught humanity that aircraft can be used as weapons of destruction not only of those travelling therein but also of others i.e. of mass destruction of those to whom they may be diverted,” justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said.
The entity had challenged the November 20, 2015 order of the ministry of civil aviation by which its appeal against the September 22, 2015 communication of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) was dismissed.
In the September 22, 2015 communication, BCAS had conveyed to the entity that in view of the “adverse report” received from central security agencies, security clearance was being denied to it.
In its plea, the entity had said the Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) had on June, 15, 2010 granted a licence to the firm, which was then known as SSP Catering India Pvt Ltd, to set-up, develop and operate a lounge under the brand called ‘Emirates Lounge’ at the airport.
It said that in January 2011, BCAS had granted security clearance to the entity which was valid for five years.
The entity said that in 2014, one of its shareholders had disinvested its entire shareholding to an existing shareholder and name of the firm was changed from SSP Catering India Pvt Ltd to M/s Skylark Hospitality India Pvt Ltd after which it was required to obtain fresh security clearance.
It alleged that without granting pre-decisional hearing to them, BCAS denied the security clearance and stopped accepting applications for issuance of airport entry passes afresh for its employees.
The entity said after it came to know that several other firms were registered in the name of ‘Skylark’, it changed its name to M/s ADD Lounge Services Pvt Ltd without affecting any change in its shareholding or management.
The firm had challenged the November 20 last year order contending that it was based on “surmises and conjectures” and was “non-speaking” and denial of security clearance was violative of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
It said no security related incident was ever reported against the entity, its directors or officials.
However, BCAS told the court that the entity was a joint venture of two firms and it had received inputs from central security agency that one of the JV partner companies had come to “significant adverse notice”.
The court noted that denial of security clearance was not due to anything adverse against the firm as a corporate entity but on account of promoter of another company, holding more than 10 per cent shares in it, being “in adverse notice since 1997 for his involvement in corrupt practices and acting as broker in deals between private parties and Ministry...”
The judge said “in my opinion, a person accused of influencing decision-making by public authorities” which should be done in public interest and not in private interest, cannot be trusted and could jeopardise safety for the sake of private interest.
“However, the very fact that the gentleman for whose reason security clearance has been denied, inspite of his name being on undesirable contact men list and being in adverse notice of the officers since 1997, has in the past succeeded in getting security clearance does not entitle him to become entitled to renewal thereof,” the court said.