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SC raps govt on airport ground handling policy
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, April 4
The Supreme Court today questioned the government on the logic of forcing private airlines to hand over baggage and other ground handling operations to a specialised agency at six major revenue-generating airports, but allowing them to have their own arrangements at high-security-risk places such as Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states and Punjab.

A Bench comprising Justices RV Raveendran and AK Patnaik issued notice to the government seeking its response to the objections raised by a federation of private airlines. The court, however, refused to stay the Delhi High Court verdict giving the green signal to the government policy. Any relief would be considered at the next hearing.

Appearing for Indigo, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi said the government had allowed his client to handle the baggage of its passengers under the operating licence issued under the statute. But it was now seeking to take away the baggage and other ground handling operations through a circular. What was granted under the statute cannot be denied through an official circular, he contended.

If private airlines were competent enough to conduct ground handling operations at airports facing high security risk, they should be allowed to deal with these at other places as well, he contended.

The specialised ground handling agency sought to be put in place at six major airports - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad - was nothing but a joint venture of Indian Airlines and another company. How could the government subject the private airlines to take the services of its competitor, Indian Airlines, Rohatgi wanted to know. The move was aimed at revenue, not security, he said.

At one point, the Bench said the government was trying to bring down the level of competence of private airlines to that of incompetent airlines. “We know which airlines come on time and which wait for VIPs,” Justice Raveendran remarked.

“Sometimes, in the name of good governance you end up ensuring bad governance,” Justice Patnaik told Solicitor-General Gopal Subramanium, who appeared for the government.

Rohatgi said his client had invested thousands of crores in business and hoped to make it successful by providing efficient services, but the government was coming in the way. Indigo was a security cleared airlines, he pointed out.





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