Kerala moves Supreme Court against airport handover to Adani
The Kerala government has approached the Supreme Court challenging a decision by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to hand over Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to Adani Enterprises Ltd which, in February 2019, won the bid to manage and operate the facility for 50 years.
The petition in the Supreme Court follows a December 2019 ruling by the Kerala high court which dismissed a plea by the Kerala government on grounds that the case involved a dispute between the Centre and the state which only the Supreme Court is empowered to hear under Article 131 of the Constitution.
According to Article 131, the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over disputes between the Central and state governments.
The petition before the top court, filed on February 3, is likely to be taken up for hearing next week.
When contacted, a spokesman for the Adani group declined to comment, saying the matter was “sub judice.”
The Request For Proposals (RFP) on operation, management and development of the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport airport was published by the AAI in December 2018.
Prior to that, when the state government came to know about the Centre’s proposal to develop the airport in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Mode, the chief minister wrote to the minister of civil aviation to allow the state government to form a special purpose vehicle to take over and run the airport on a revenue sharing basis.
The central government however, proceeded with its decision to invite bids for the PPP model. The government-owned Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) participated in the bid in February 2019, but Adani Enterprises quoted the highest bid and won it. Adani group offered to pay a fee of Rs 168 per passenger and KSIDC Rs 135, followed by GMR Group at Rs 63.
After losing the bid, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him not to hand over the airport to a private entity. Citing the successful Public-Private Partnership model adopted by Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), he said the state deserved preferential consideration over the private group taking into account its experience in running the airport.
The state ,in its petition before the Supreme Court, disputed the reasoning adopted by the high court that the case was a centre-state dispute. The government said that a suit under Article 131 was not maintainable with the AAI as a party.
“Airport Authority of India is a necessary party to such a lis (suit in legal lingo) and no writ petition will lie without Airport Authority on the party array. It is submitted that in the instant case, it is the Airport Authority which invited the Request For Proposal and any challenge impugning the proceedings which led to the Request For Proposal cannot be instituted without Airport Authority on the party array”, the plea said.
In the petition before the high court, the state argued that granting the right to operate and manage the airport to a private party that has no previous experience in managing airports was not in public interest.
It also argued that the move violated the proprietary rights of the state government because the 665 acres of land on which the Thiruvananthapuram airport is situated belonged to the state government and the erstwhile Travancore state.
The state also pointed out that the chief minister of Kerala had offered to take the project at the rate quoted by Adani.
Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India I(Marxist) launched a campaign against the move to hand over the airport to Adani saying that it amounted to a sell-out.
“The state had invested heavily on land and other infrastructure and we will not allow a private firm to get away with it. We feel it was a sell-out. The group has no experience in running the airports either. We made it clear we won’t sign the ‘state support agreement, ‘“ said the chief minister.
The Airports’ Authority Employees Union (AAEUm) in another petitioner before the apex court, has challenged the Kerala high court ruling. “Employees were not heard by anyone at any stage,” said AAEU convenor S Ajith Kumar.