The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the privatisation of Mangaluru International Airport. The petition was moved by Airports Authority Employees Union.
While dismissing the plea, a Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum relied on a Kerala High Court decision which held that since leasing the airports is a policy decision taken by the Government of India, no interference of the Court is required.
The plea had sought to quash a 2019 cabinet decision approving the bid to lease out three airports including the one at Mangaluru to Adani Enterprises.
The petition challenged the Centre’s decision to privatize six airports, terming the same as “illegal, arbitrary and beyond the scope of the Airport Authority Act, 1994.”
Senior Advocate Ashok Haranahalli, appearing for the petitioners, referred to Section 12 of the Airports Authority of India Act and submitted,
The premises of the airport can be leased but my submission is that the entire airport is given away to a private person for operations.”
Referring to the lease agreement, he pointed out that there was no revenue sharing with the government and that the entire fixation of the lease is on per passenger fee. Haranahalli had further submitted that,
“Runways and taxiways and aircraft rescue fire buildings are also leased out. These are part of air traffic service, they could not have been leased at all…Virtually, the control over aviation services is given to them, it is contrary to AAI Act.”
Even though it is called a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project, there is no revenue generated for formulation of PPP partnership, he pointed out.
“The airport is given to a third party, which is not in consonance with the policy of Public-Private Partnership model. This is not a partnership but just giving away.”
Opposing these submissions, Additional Solicitor General MB Nargund, appearing for the Union government, firstly questioned the petition’s maintainability.
The Court was further informed that a branch of the same petitioner union had filed a plea before the Kerala High Court, which was rejected. The present petition is thus not maintainable, it was contended.