December 7, 2022

High Court junks Kerala govt’s plea against airport lease to Adani

The state government had filed an application in the court against the Central government’s decision to lease out the operation, management, and development of Thiruvantjapuram airport to Adani Enterprises for a period of 50 years.

In a setback for the Kerala government, the High Court Monday dismissed petitions filed against the privatisation of the Thiruvananthapuram airport.

The state government had filed an application in the court against the Central government’s decision to lease out the operation, management, and development of Thiruvananthapuram airport to Adani Enterprises for a period of 50 years. Thiruvananthapuram International Airport was among the six such facilities for which the Adani group had won the lease and maintenance bids for in February 2019.

The bench of justices K Vinod Chandran and TR Ravi dismissed multiple petitions filed by the Kerala government and the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) against the privatisation move. The court agreed with the Centre’s contention that the decision to hand over the airport to the company was policy-based and had the backing of the central cabinet. The court added that it cannot concur with the state government’s contention that it deserved preference on grounds that it had completed the process of land acquisition.

To take part in the bidding process and then term the same process wrong cannot be justified, the bench said, dismissing the state’s argument that the bidding process was shaped to suit Adani.

The Kerala government had argued in court that the handover of an airport built on government land to a private company was against the state’s interests and that it had not quoted a higher per passenger fee because it had the interests of passengers in mind. The state said it was ignored even when the chief minister agreed to match Adani’s bid of Rs 168 per passenger for the maintenance of the airport.

Kerala had participated in the bidding process through a ‘special purpose vehicle’ which was given the right of first refusal or a provision to match the winning bid if its quote fell within 10% range of the top bidder. However, the bid of KSIDC, on behalf of the Kerala government, was Rs 135 per passenger against Rs 168 of Adani — 19.64% lower making it ineligible to exercise the provision.

After the Union Cabinet ratified leasing out the airport to Adani Group, the Kerala government had sent two letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stating that the state would not cooperate in implementing the decision. Opposition Congress also joined hands in the protest. Kerala also said its claim to manage the Thiruvananthapuram airport was rejected by the Centre even after it offered to match Adani’s bid.

Besides Thiruvananthapuram, Adani has won the rights to run five other airports — Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangaluru and Guwahati. Adani Enterprises outbid eight other companies in the process, including GMR Airports, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), Cochin International Airport Ltd and Zurich Airport, to win the rights in February 2019.

 

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