Last week, The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the proposal for leasing out the Jaipur, Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram airports to Adani Enterprises that won these in an auction last year.
“Granting the airports to a single business entity and group would lead to monopoly and the group will squeeze the extra revenues from passengers and airlines”. Trade organisations wrote in a joint statement condemning the move.
Till now, Adani has won bids to operate and manage the development of six airports, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Manguluru, Jaipur, Guwahati, and Thiruvananthapuram for the next 50 years, and is set to acquire a 74% stake in the Mumbai International Airport. This would make Adani the largest private airport operator. At present, the largest private airport operator is the GMR group which operates the Delhi and Hyderabad Airports, while most of the remaining airports are run by the Airports Authority of India.
The six airports given to Adani are all the profitable ones and not one of the 109 out of 123 airports in India that are suffering losses according to official figures. The privatisation of profit-making airports has been opposed by The AAI Employees Joint Forum, which has pointed out in a letter to the Civil Aviation Minister last year, that privatisation has not brought about any good to the country or the people at large, insofar as infrastructural facilities or generating employment are concerned. Instead, privatisation has encouraged monopolistic operation, exploitation of employees and putting an additional burden on the general public. Ten central trade unions, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC condemned the privatisation of the airports on August 25. In a joint statement, they wrote, “Granting the airports to a single business entity and group would lead to monopoly and the group will squeeze the extra revenues from passengers and airlines”.
The decision to privatise the Thiruvananthapuram airport has in particular been opposed strongly by the Kerala government, including the opposition. The Centre, which in 2003, had assured Kerala that the state government would be included in the decision-making process for privatisation of the Thiruvananthapuram airport, has now taken a unilateral decision regarding the privatisation. Although Adani outbid the Kerala government’s bid for the airport, the Kerala government offered to match Adani’s bid in order to avoid privatisation. On August 24, the Kerala Assembly unanimously passed a resolution moved by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, urging the Centre to reconsider the decision to hand over the Thiruvananthapuram international airport to Adani through the public-private partnership model.
The Centre’s negligence towards the Kerala State Government’s offer to match Adani’s bid, the lack of involvement of the State government in making the decision of privatisation, and the push to privatise airports that are making profits, shows that this is a larger attempt to privatise public sector undertakings in order to appease the business interests of major private players, in this case, Adani. A similar move was seen with respect to the Indian Railways, which is not only a crucial public service but was earning revenues worth 429 crore rupees even in the time of the pandemic. This was in stark contrast to the government’s claims that it needs to be privatised in order to avoid losses so that better services can be provided to the public.