Supreme Court Dismissed Kerala Govt’s Petition Opposing Adani Group’s Takeover of Thiruvananthapuram Airport

On Monday, October 17, the Supreme Court dismissed a Kerala government petition challenging the Union government’s decision to hand over operations of Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to Adani Enterprises Limited.

The plea was rejected on two grounds by a division of Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice Bela.M. Trivedi. “We see no reason to entertain the special leave petition given that the private entity has been in operation since October 2021.” As a result, the court dismissed the appeal, “according to Bar and Bench. Second, it stated that the airport was handed over to the Adani Group following a bidding process held in 2019 in which the company quoted Rs 168 as the per-passenger fee payable to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) over Rs 135 offered by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), as per the report.

However, the court ruled that the question of who owns the land on which the airport is built would remain open as long as Adani Group continues to operate, manage, and develop the airport for the next 50 years. While dismissing a separate petition filed by the Airport Authority Employees Union, the two-judge bench also stated that employees have the option of remaining with the AAI or switching to the service of the private entity, Adani Group.

After the Kerala high court rejected the state government’s plea in October 2020, the case was heard by the Supreme Court in November 2020. A division bench of the high court then ruled that the court could not interfere with an executive decision regarding airport privatisation, allowing Adani Group to run the operations of the Thiruvananthapuram airport.

For more than two years, the Pinarayi Vijayan government and other parties in the state, with the exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been opposed to the Adani Group taking over the operations of the airport in the state capital, even before it became official.

The Pinarayi Vijayan government told the Supreme Court that the Adani Group was given preference despite the private concessionaire’s lack of experience managing airports. The decision, it said, “smacks of arbitrariness.”

It also claimed that the decision to hand over the airport to the Adani group was not in the public interest, claiming that the entire process, including tender processes, was “vitiated by malafides” and violated the provisions of the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, as well as the state government’s proprietary rights over the land on which the Thiruvananthapuram Airport stood.

At this point, Chief Justice Lalit questioned the Union government’s representative, additional solicitor general K.M. Natraj, on whether it was not prudent to make “experience” one of the criteria for handing over the airport.

“Running an airport is not the same as running any other business.” “It necessitates a great deal of experience, expertise, and knowledge gained through experience,” Chief Justice Lalit stated verbally during the hearing.

In response, the Union government stated that the policy was reached after conditions were fine-tuned following several consultations. The Kerala government, on the other hand, charged the Union government with violations. According to the Bar and Bench report, the “grant of concession” to the Adani group violated an earlier undertaking by the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation, which rejected the state government’s proposal to form a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to take over and run the airport on a revenue-sharing basis. The state government’s counsel also stated that the Kerala government had previous experience of operating airports through its various organisations.

The appeal stated that “The Kochi International Airport at Nedumbasserry, Ernakulam, Kerala, which is operated by Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), a state government-sponsored company, is one of the world’s leading airports,” referring to Kannur International Airport as well.

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

It should be noted that in August 2021, prior to the airport operations being handed over to Adani Group, the Kerala Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the Union government to reverse its decision.

“The state has been opposing the move for the past two years.” I have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice. Nonetheless, despite the state’s protest, it was turned over to a private entity… ” Chief Minister Vijayan complained.

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