Kochi: In a setback for the Pinarayi Vijayan government, Kerala High Court on Monday dismissed the State Government's petition against the Centre's decision to lease out the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to Adani Enterprises Ltd.
A division bench of the High Court comprising Justices K Vinod Chandran and C S Dias delivered the verdict, dismissing arguments raised by the state government and others opposing the Centre's decision to lease out the airport to Adani Enterprises.
The petition was filed after an all-party meet, held on August 20, decided to move a resolution against the Centre's decision, and to demand its withdrawal. On August 21, the government moved a petition in high court seeking a stay on further proceedings in leasing out the airport. Later, Kerala assembly passed a "unanimous resolution" demanding the withdrawal of Centre's decision.
Last year, the high court had dismissed the petition challenging the decision, terming it as not maintainable under Article 226 of the Constitution. The state government then filed an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging the high court order. The apex court set aside the judgement of the high court and the matter was remanded back to it for a decision on merit.
The state government had accused the Centre of showing undue preference in leasing out the airport to Adani Enterprises
Unless the stay is granted, "it will be put to irreparable injury and hardship", the state government said in its application challenging the Centre's move to privatise the airport.
In its writ petition, the government had contended that the attempt of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to grant the right of operation, management, and development of the airport to Adani Enterprises Ltd which has no previous experience in managing airports, was not in the public interest and violated the provisions of the AAI Act as well as the proprietary right of the state government over the land where the airport was situated.
However, the Centre contested Kerala government's claims stating the latter was allowed to take part in the bidding process with some relaxation of norms. The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) had taken part in the bidding. However, the Centre said the state government did not qualify in the bidding process that was carried out in a "transparent manner".
The Centre argued that the state government did not have the right to approach the court after failing in the bidding process. The airport has been leased out to a private entity in public interest, the Centre had stated.
The Centre had stressed that the move to lease out six airports, including Thiruvanathapuram, through public-private partnership (PPP) was a policy decision which could not be questioned by the petitioner. The legal power to decide on the matters of contention between the Central and state governments lies with the Supreme Court and hence the petition would be quashed, the Centre noted.
Adani Enterprises has won the rights to run six airports - Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Guwahati - through the PPP model after a competitive bidding process in February 2019.
(With inputs from PTI and The Week)