The Supreme Court on Friday left it to the Kerala High Court to decide the merits of the Airport Authority of India's (AAI) 'Request for Proposal' to grant the right of operation, management and development of the Thiruvananthapuram Airport to Adani Enterprises Limited.
“We are sending it back”, a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde observed.
The High Court had, on December 18 last, concluded that the State’s writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution was not maintainable before it.
The AAI proposal to hand over the airport management to the company was essentially an implementation of the Central policy, the High Court had reasoned.
The High Court said the dispute was between the State of Kerala and the Union government. Only the Supreme Court, and not high courts, has jurisdiction in such Centre-State disputes. Kerala ought to directly file a suit under Article 131 in the Supreme Court, the High Court had advised.
Challenging this conclusion, the State contended in the Supreme Court that the AAI was a necessary party in this dispute. Though it was a government policy, it was the AAI that has to prepare the lease. The lease for turning over the airport to the Adani company would be bad in law without the AAA’s participation.
The State dismissed the idea of filing a direct suit in the Supreme Court under Article 131.
However, the Supreme Court, on Friday, left open the issue whether this dispute comes under Article 131.
The State government has contended that a suit under Article 131 is permitted only if the dispute is exclusively between the Centre and a State government. The AAI does not qualify to be called a ‘State’ under the Article. Hence, a suit under Article 131 cannot be filed in the Supreme Court because though the AAI is a necessary party to the dispute, it does not answer to the definition of a ‘State’. So, only a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution would lie, it argued.
The State has said that handing over the airport to Adani Enterprises Limited, which has no previous experience in managing airports, is “not in public interest and is violative of the provisions of the Airport Authority of India Act of 1994 as well as the proprietary rights of the State government as regards the land wherein the Thiruvananthapuram Airport is situated”.