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Licence given to JV for ground-handling services upheld

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The Madras High Court on Tuesday upheld the licence awarded to a joint venture for providing comprehensive ground handling services to various airlines operating at the Chennai and Kolkata airports in September 2009.

Dismissing two petitions, including a public interest litigation petition, a Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Aruna Jagadeesan said a thorough scrutiny of the entire material would not exhibit any unreasonableness on the part of the authorities.

There was no material to show that the tender conditions were tailor-made to suit the successful bidder as had been falsely alleged by petitioners.

As held by the Supreme Court, the scope of interference by court in contractual matters was very limited. Further, the AAI had fully justified its policy decision. No bias or malafide by any authority or person connected to the entire episode of award of the contract to the company had been established by petitioners.

In view of Supreme Court judgments coupled with the CBI’s report that no substantial wrongful loss had been caused to the AAI or the Centre, the Bench held that both the petitions were nothing but vexatious litigations filed only to wrongfully restrain the successful bidder from commencing its operations.

While Oveyam Ranjan, president, Namadhu Dravida Iyakkam, and S.C.C. Anthony Pillai Labour Union here filed a PIL, the Indian Airports Ground Handling Agents Association, Bangalore, filed the other petition. The common allegations, among others, were eligibility conditions of the tender of July 20, 2009 were tailor-made to suit Bhadra International (India) Ltd. and Novia International Consulting APS, a joint venture, the successful bidder.

The Bench said from the material placed on record, it could see that previously, there was no outside agency licensed by AAI to do ground handling work at airports in the country.

However, it was noticed that airline companies, which were supposed to do ground handling themselves, were really outsourcing the work to third parties without AAI’s consent or permission. Hence, the AAI took a decision to streamline the process of ground handling.

Messrs. Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Aruna Jagadeesan said the object of the petitioner who had filed the PIL appeared to be to stall the taking over of the airport ground handling work by the successful bidder at the last minute. This conclusion was because the contract for the work was awarded by a letter dated September 9, 2009, pursuant to a public tender and security clearances were granted by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security in April and May 2010, but the petitioner waited till December 2010 end to file the writ petition, since he knew that the successful bidder was to commence the activities by January 1, 2011.

When the aggrieved parties, if any, themselves kept mum, the Bench said it wondered as to why Mr. Ranjan, completely a third party to the entire issue, should espouse the claim of the ground handlers under the garb of PIL, that too posing himself as a “messiah of the masses” and trying to interfere in a commercial contract matter. No PIL was maintainable in commercial contract matters.

The Bench did not appreciate the petitioners’ contention that only with an ulterior motive, Chennai and Kolkata airports were clubbed together by officials.

In a commercial contract matter if a free hand was not given to government, it would result in loss to the exchequer.


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