Supreme Court puts off hearing on Kerala plea against airport privatisation


The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned the hearing of a Kerala government petition against the Centre’s “illegal” move to handover the Thiruvananthapuram airport to the Adani group.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde said the court would take up the case again for hearing on the Monday after a fortnight.

The court disagreed when one of the lawyers said the case should slip into a limbo.

“How can it be in limbo when we are seized of it,” Chief Justice Bobde asked.

The State government has sought an interim stay of the Kerala High Court decision on October 19, allowing the Airport Authority of India (AAI) let Adani Enterprises Limited takeover the “operation, management and development” of Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.

The State, in its petition, said the preference given by the Centre to a private concessionaire like Adani, which has no experience in the field of managing airports, smacks of arbitrariness.

The High Court had favoured the handover of a vital facility to a private entity though it 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 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 State has argued in its appeal.

The Chief Minister had even offered to take up the project at the rate at par with what was quoted by the Adani company, it said.

The appeal said the State had given AAI land free of cost for the construction of the airport on the assurance that it would be involved in the forming of an SPV. This was a “legitimate expectation”, it said.

“Chief Minister, on November 21, 2018, wrote to the Civil Aviation Minister, informing that the State Government has been actively associated in transferring land to the AAI, without having any legal obligation to do so, on the explicit understanding that Kerala would be associated by forming an SPV whenever the AAI felt the need to transfer the management of the airport to any entity,” the State has argued.

The State said it has experience running airports through its various organisations.

“The Kochi International Airport at Nedumbasserry, Ernakulam, Kerala, 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 has also referred to the Kannur International Airport.

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

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