Top court of the country took the union government to task over its partisan aviation policy that was pandering to the interest of private operators and neglecting many regions, which either had no air connectivity or was deficient even though thousand of crores from the public exchequer was being spent on Air India, the public carrier. In response to a public interest litigation the Supreme Court pointed out that there was no air connectivity to Shimla and many parts of North East India.
The bench questioned the union government whether providing air services to places like Shimla and North East India was part of its policy guidelines or not. The bench that heard the petition was headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur and had Justice R Banumathi on board.
If you’re giving a private operator (permission) to fly to Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, can’t you ask them to fly to Himachal Pradesh, Northeastern states and Andaman & Nicobar Islands,” the bench questioned.
Additional Solicitor General PS Patwalia, appearing for Air India, a respondent in the case, let the court know that Shimla was a small airport and with a lot of accompanied difficulties. The courts did not agree with the government counsels argument describing it a ‘bluff’ that the government had framed guidelines and was strictly adhering to them.
The bench observed that economic interests of private operators were being taken care of without any concern for air routes to Himachal Pradesh and Northeast India. The court described it as a ‘largesse’ to private airlines without bothering about corresponding obligations of linking lesser lucrative routes.
The bench also recalled Patwalia’s assurance ‘we will do something’ made to the bench on the last hearing at 15 March, 2016, and responded, “We thought you will come back and tell us that this group will operate flights” to Shimla airport. a
With the court making its intentions clear about ordering a probe into route allotment policies, Patawalia said that he “understood the sentiments of the court” and would convey them to the concerned authorities.
The court has listed the next hearing in the matter for 21 April.
The apex court had stayed a 7 December, 2016 Himachal Pradesh High Court order to Air India for operating flights to Shimla Airport.
Air India has challenged the High Court order arguing that flights connecting Shimla and Delhi were not economical.