Cloudy Skies

The state has taken on the Ada­nis and the Cen­tre over who will run the 84-year-old Thiruvanan­thapuram air­port

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

The Thiruvanan­thapuram air­port was started as a fly­ing club in 1932 by the Tra­van­core royal fam­ily. The Tata Air­lines’ maiden flight to the air­port in 1935 used a DH­83 Fox Moth air­craft, and it came car­ry­ing birth­day wishes for Ma­haraja Chithira Thirunal from the Viceroy, Lord Willing­don. The air­port, now spread over 700 acres of land, han­dled 4.4 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2018­19.

But now, Kerala’s first in­ter­na­tional air­port is in the thick of a con­tro­versy. In Fe­bru­ary, it be­came one of the six air­ports leased out to high­est bid­ders Adani Group by the Air­port Au­thor­ity of In­dia (AAI). Protests started soon af­ter in Kerala. “The city air­port is our pride and we had re­quested the prime min­is­ter that the state be given pref­er­en­tial con­sid­er­a­tion while se­lect­ing the bid for the Thiruvanan­thapuram air­port,” Chief Min­is­ter Pi­narayi Vi­jayan told in­dia to­day. The Kerala State In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (KSIDC) was one of the bid­ders for the 50­year lease of the air­port.

Pi­narayi has made it clear that Kerala will re­sist if the Cen­tre by­passes the state gov­ern­ment to hand over the air­port to the Ada­nis. As a start, it

may back out from hand­ing over the eight acres of land ac­quired for a new do­mes­tic ter­mi­nal an­nounced ear­lier. The is­sue is also be­ing fought in the public sphere where new rev­e­la­tions may bol­ster Kerala’s case. News re­ports sug­gest that the cen­tral panel for public pri­vate part­ner­ships—the PPP Ap­praisal Com­mit­tee (PPPAC)—had dis­re­garded some six cri­te­ria set by the fi­nance min­istry’s De­part­ment of Eco­nomic Affairs (DEA) and the NITI Aayog while ap­prov­ing the Adani Group’s bids. These in­clude the re­quire­ment of prior ex­pe­ri­ence in op­er­a­tion and man­age­ment (O&M) of air­ports, pro­vid­ing the to­tal project cost for each air­port up front (to de­ter­mine fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity), not award­ing the same player more than two air­ports (to ‘fa­cil­i­tate yard­stick com­pe­ti­tion’), etc.

THE CEN­TRE CIR­CUM­VENTED NORMS TO GIVE THE CON­TRACT TO THE ADA­NIS

The Adani Group, a new player in the air­port man­age­ment sec­tor, knows very well that with­out state sup­port it will not be able to op­er­ate the air­port. The group has high stakes in Kerala as it is also build­ing the in­ter­na­tional port at Vizhin­jam.

Po­lit­i­cally, too, the state is riven by the is­sue. The op­po­si­tion Congress is di­vided on the mat­ter, with one sec­tion in­clud­ing Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee (PCC) chief Mul­lap­pally Ra­machan­dran bat­ting against pri­vati­sa­tion and oth­ers for it. The state BJP is play­ing a wait­and­watch game as lo­cal sen­ti­ment is against pri­vati­sa­tion.

The Ada­nis are ap­par­ently look­ing for a com­pro­mise and have in­di­cated that the com­pany would like to part­ner the state gov­ern­ment in the man­age­ment of the air­port. But the rul­ing CPI(M) and its al­lies are un­likely to set­tle, one rea­son be­ing the state’s big in­vest­ments for the land ac­qui­si­tion. In fact, the Left Demo­cratic Front is plan­ning to in­ten­sify the stir for the air­port. “We will fight the pri­vati­sa­tion move legally and po­lit­i­cally,” says LDF con­venor A. Vi­ja­yaragha­van. “The state gov­ern­ment has spent a lot of money de­vel­op­ing the air­port and the AAI had given as­sur­ances in 2003 that Kerala would be con­sulted be­fore pri­vatis­ing the air­port.” Looks like an­other war is brew­ing over Kerala’s skies.

RAKESH NAIR

CHANG­ING HANDS Thiruvanan­thapuram air­port

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