Closure of old airport defended

Decision taken by ex-PM

Closure of old airport defended

In 2000, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had decided to halt commercial and civil operations at old airports once greenfield projects such as the Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) came up. Operations at HAL airport were stopped from March 2008.   

Even as the High Court’s division bench of Justice N Kumar ordered that details related to the government’s decision be placed before it, the Attorney General also sought to clarify that “it was not a closure, but withdrawal of permission for commercial and civil operations”, adding that under Rule 12 of General Exceptions, the Prime Minister is authorised to take such decisions”.

Several petitioners, including the Airports Authority of India Employees’ Union and the HAL Airport Employees’ Union had petitioned the High Court challenging the airport’s closure.

Maintaining that it would be wrong to say that the HAL airport has been closed, Vahanvati said: “It is only cessation of activities. We just withdrew user permission. It is a general policy decision. But it is still under the control of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).”

Vahanvati submitted that the Centre had formed a task force in 1998 to develop infrastructure, including construction of new airports and that the decision to close down aging airports emerged from that policy.

Not binding

On the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Civil Aviation headed by Sitaram Yechury, which the petitioners cited, the Attorney General said it was not binding on the State Government to implement it as it was advisory in nature. “But it will be considered seriously and the suggestions will be incorporated with our planning,” he informed the Court.

Denying that there was transfer of licence, Vahanvati insisted it was only case of withdrawal of permission. In this context, he said “even BIAL requires to obtain a licence. They have a licence for two years. They are not independent. We can control them”.

During his hour-long argument, the Attorney General termed the Airports Authority of India’s report as a corpus of suggestion to improve the airport’s functioning since it was a share holder.

Admitting that the agreement between the Ministry of Civil Aviation and BIAL was private in nature, Vahanvati said that it was done in public interest and that there was no question of “throwing or selling away”.

A Division Bench headed by Justice N Kumar directed the Centre to place the details related to BIA’s capacity. The details sought must include the number of domestic and international passengers that BIA can cater to on a monthly and annual basis. The Centre was also asked to place on record the capacity of the airport as well as the demand since it became operations.

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