SC dismisses Kerala petition challenging operation of Thiruvananthapuram airport by Adani group

The court also noted that the private entity had already taken over "operation, management and development" of the airport

October 17, 2022 04:01 pm | Updated 05:36 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Thiruvananthapuram international airport. FIle

A view of the Thiruvananthapuram international airport. FIle | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

The Supreme Court on October 17, 2022, dismissed Kerala government's petition challenging the Centre's decision to hand over the operations of Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to the Adani group.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit reasoned that the bid offered by the Adani Enterprises Limited for every domestic passenger was ₹168, that is, 20% above the ₹135 offer given by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation.

The court also noted that the private entity had already taken over "operation, management and development" of the airport from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) since October 2021.

The Bench noted that the employees were given the choice to either stay with the AAI or switch over to service of the private entity. On Kerala's request, the court kept open the issue of State ownership of the airport land.

The State had alleged that preference was given by the Centre to a private concessionaire like Adani, which has no experience in the field of managing airports, smacks of arbitrariness.

"Running an airport is not like running any other entity. It requires a tremendous amount of experience, expertise and knowledge gained through experience," Chief Justice Lalit orally remarked during the hearing.

It asked the Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natraj, whether it was not prudent to have made experience as one of the parameters.

The government said the policy and conditions were fine tuned after several consultations.

In its appeal, the State, represented by senior advocate C.U. Singh and C.K. Sasi, argued that the Kerala High Court had favoured the handover of the vital facility to a private entity though such a move was not in the interest of better management of the airport. The entire proceeding, including the tender process, was in violation of the provisions of the Airport Authority of India Act, 1994, the State had said.

The concession was given to the Adani group despite a proposal from the Kerala government to form a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to run the airport on a revenue-sharing basis, the appeal had said.

Mr. Singh argued that the State had experience in running airports through its various organisations. "The Kochi International Airport at Nedumbassery, Ernakulam, which is being operated by Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), a State government- sponsored company, is one of the leading airports world over," the appeal said.

The State also referred to the Kannur International Airport. "This airport has the most modern and state-of-the-art aviation and other passenger and cargo facilities and is being operated by the Kannur International Airport Limited (KIAL), another State -government-sponsored company. It has become operational and is making progress," the appeal said.

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