Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in what smacks of his readiness to go for a showdown with the Centre, has once again objected to the hand over of the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to Adani Enterprises. “The airport rightfully belongs to Kerala and it is not going from our hands,” the chief minister said while responding to a calling attention moved by CPI leader C Divakaran in the Assembly.
The chief minister's aggressive stance has come just days before the expected central government approval for the move. “There is a NITI Aayog meeting in Delhi on June 15. I intend to meet the prime minister in person and once again put forth our case before him,” the chief minister said. He also said the state government had been consistently taking initiatives to stall the privatisation of the airport.
“When competitive bidding was announced we formed a special purpose vehicle under KSIDC called TIAL (Trivandrum International Airport Limited) to take part in the bid and had sought the right of first refusal,” the chief minister said. “However, a bid difference of only 10 per cent was granted in our favour,” he added.
This meant that TIAL would get preference if the winning bid is only 10 per cent higher. In Adani's case, the quoted amount was nearly 25 per cent higher. Adani had quoted a Rs 168 per passenger fee, and TIAL Rs 135. The TIAL bid was fairly competitive as the lowest bidder GMR, which runs the Delhi and Hyderabad airports, had quoted only Rs 63.
Adani won the right to upgrade and operate airports in Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangalore for 50 years in auctions held late last year.
Soon after the bid was given to Adani, the KSIDC had moved the High Court challenging the Airport Authority of India's (AAI) decision to rope in a private entity to run the Thiruvananthapuram airport. In its writ petition on March 5, it was submitted that the AAI's attempt to grant the rights of operation, management and development of the airport to the Adani Enterprises Ltd was not in public interest.
Right then, the chief minister also shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his missive, Pinarayi Vijayan had said that the growing “public resentment” would make it difficult for the state to back a “private agency”.
The chief minister had also called the entire bidding process into question. He reiterated the sentiment in the Assembly on Thursday. “The absence of a prior experience clause in the tender document was surprising,” the chief minister said. “Instead an experience in infrastructure development alone was asked for. That the Adani Group, which had no experience in airport development, had won six bids makes the entire process suspicious,” he added.
On June 15, when he meets the prime minister during the NITI Aayog meeting, the chief minister will once again ask him to urgently intervene to stop the hand over of the Thiruvananthapuram airport to Adani Group. Pinarayi Vijayan will also ask the Centre to hand over the responsibility to TIAL.
The chief minister said the state government had provided 635 acres free for the development of the airport. “But our decision to transfer 23.57 acres in 2005 for the construction of the new international terminal was conditional,” the chief minister said. A major condition was that if under any circumstances the airport was made into a company, the cost of the land transferred free of cost should be converted into the state's share.
What's more, the civil aviation secretary had in 2003 given a written assurance that the state government would be consulted whenever there was a move to introduce private participation in the Thiruvananthapuram airport. The airport was established in 1932 on 258.06 acres of land owned by the princely state of Travancore, of which the state is the successor.