DGCA Draws SC Ire on Licensing Policy
SC, hearing a plea on Delhi-Shimla flight, asks regulator why only AI was being made to serve non-profitable sectors
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked whether lucrative sectors were being handed out as “largesse” to private airlines to the detriment of state-run Air India.
It threatened an audit of licensing policies to find out why the national carrier was making losses unless the government ensured that private airlines flew on routes that weren’t lucrative as mandated under the rules.
The court was hearing a petition seeking a Delhi-Shimla flight, which the aviation ministry has been resisting on the grounds that the airfield was small and that Air India didn’t have planes of the right size.
The bench comprising chief justice TS Thakur and justice R Banumathi threatened the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) with an audit by former comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai.
Under route dispersal guidelines, all private airlines have to connect not-so-profitable routes as well. But most leave the task to the national carrier, causing it huge losses, the court had observed earlier.
Appearing for DGCA, additional solicitor general PS Patwalia initially sought more time from the court to allow the regulator to revisit route dispersal guidelines to deal with lack of connectivity to areas such as Shimla.
However, he later urged the court not to direct an audit by Rai. DGCA had no “skeletons” in its cupboard and nothing would come of such an inquiry, he said, seeking another opportunity to address Shimla’s lack of connectivity.
Thakur was reluctant to grant him time, but deferred passing any order directing Rai to audit DGCA guidelines till April 22.
“You are just promising to revisit the guidelines. You have not done anything,” he observed. “These airlines are not bothering on the not-solucrative routes. You are not insisting on it. You are giving the lucrative routes without insisting that they carry out their concomitant obligations to cover the not-so-lucrative sectors.”
Thakur’s statements on the matter were forthright.
“You need someone to call your bluff. This is a bluff. We need someone who will call your bluff. People are suffering because you are looking after operators’ economic inter- ests and not the people’s interests,” he said. “Is it not the obligation of your policy to take care of the interests of Shimla? You have not done it.”
Patwalia’s defence that many poorly connected destinations had been covered by air services didn’t appear to satisfy the bench. “We want results,” Thakur said. “We don’t want dilly-dallying tactics. There are a lot of skeletons in your cupboard. Let them all come out. It is time to open the process up to scrutiny.”
The law officer denied this, saying the guidelines were transparent and being implemented strictly.
Air India has been insisting that it will fly the route if the state government subsidised its losses, whereas private airlines have refused to do so.