Thiruvananthapuram International Airport handed over to Adani group ignoring Kerala government’s opposition and protests by employees

Published : January 19, 2021 22:20 IST

At a protest by employees against the privatisation of Thiruvananthapuram international airport. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In spite of the continuing opposition of the Government of Kerala to the handing over of the 84-year-old Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to private players, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) today on January 19 formally signed a concession agreement allowing the Adani Thiruvananthapuram International Airport Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises, to ‘operate, manage and develop’ the airport for the next 50 years. The AAI signed similar agreements for the handing over of the Jaipur and Guwahati airports to the Adani group for the same period.

“AAI today signed 3 Concession Agreements with Adani Airports Ltd. for Operations, Management & Development of Jaipur, Guwahati & Thiruvananthapuram Airports through PPP [public private partnership] mode. The agreements were signed in presence of Chairman, AAI & senior officials of AAI & Adani Enterprises Ltd,” the AAI said in an announcement on its Twitter page.

Later in the day, employees of the Thiruvananthapuram airport protested in front of the Airport Director’s office against the hurried manner of the signing of the agreement when their Special Leave Petition against the handing over of the airport to the Adani Group was pending in the Supreme Court and several of their concerns remained unaddressed.

The Union Cabinet approved the proposal to hand over six airports in the country to private developers in August 2020. The Adani Group emerged the winner in a global competitive bidding conducted by the AAI for the development of the airports in PPP mode. Three airports, at Ahmedabad, Mangalore and Lucknow, were handed over to the Adani group last year.

In November, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala approached the Supreme Court seeking an interim stay of the order of the Kerala High Court dismissing petitions challenging the Centre’s decision to hand over the Thiruvananthapuram airport to the Adani Group.

The State said the High Court had failed to appreciate that the process of tender was “vitiated on several counts”, and that the agreement was an “illegal and arbitrary move” by the Central government to hand over the airport to the Adani Group.

The State also claimed that the tender proceedings were in violation of the provisions of the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, and that one of the pre-qualification conditions, that those who took part in the tender should have previous experience in managing airports, was not considered by the Centre.

The State government said it had good experience in running such airports at Kochi and Kannur. It also argued that when it provided land for the airport to the AAI — even though it had no legal obligation to do so — it had a “legitimate expectation” that it would surely be associated in the formation of an Special Purpose Vehicle “whenever the AAI felt the need to transfer the management of the airport to any entity”. But the deal was decided in favour of the Adani group despite a proposal from the State government to form a Special Purpose Vehicle to run the airport on a revenue sharing basis. The State government had even suggested that it was willing to take up the project by matching the bid quoted by the highest bidder, the government said.