The Union government’s decision to hand over the management of the Thiruvananthapuram international airport to the Adani group for 50 years, along with five other airports in the country, has created a flashpoint between the Centre and the Kerala government.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that it would be difficult for the state government to cooperate with the implementation of the decision, which he said is against the wishes of the people of Kerala.Vijayan had earlier met the Prime Minister and recorded the state’s opposition, following which the state was provided an opportunity to bid for the job along with Adani and another company through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) created by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation.The state had also secured the first right to refusal, but subject to the condition that its bid was 10 percent lower or higher than the successful bid. But when the bids were opened, the state’s offer was found to be below par.The state government then approached the Kerala High Court against the move to lease the airport to a private operator, but the court rejected its prayer.
The government then approached the Supreme Court, which, however, referred the case back to the High Court, where it is pending for a final verdict.The state government had cited the success achieved by the Kochi International Airport, which is owned and operated by a company, in which the state government is a minority shareholder. The same model has also been successfully employed in the management of the Kannur airport.The final award of the bid in favour of the Adani group, which, incidentally has a contract for the development and management of the state’s prestigious Vizhinjam port, has hardened positions, with the government declaring that it will no longer acquire and provide land for the expansion of the airport, which is badly needed for the growth of Thiruvananthapuram airport.The unchallenged success of the Kochi airport has led to Thiruvananthapuram losing the prime importance which it once had commanded. This has led to strong lobbying against the perceived campaign against the airport.The Chief Minister on Thursday called a virtual meeting of all political parties on the issue. All the parties, except BJP, are opposed to the Centre’s decision, which they allege has been taken under the cover of the Covid pandemic.
Tourism Minister Kadakampalli Surendran, who is the minister in charge of Thiruvananthapuram district, alleged that the Centre’s decision was prompted by huge kickbacks from the Adani group, which has a highly controversial track record in terms of bagging government-brokered deals.Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, however, pointed out that the state government was a party to the decision, as it had accepted the bidding conditions. He alleged that the state government is creating a ruckus over the issue to divert attention from the gold smuggling case, in which the chief minister’s office allegedly has links.
The Congress has blasted the Modi government’s decision, but Shashi Tharoor, the Thiruvananthapuram MP, has supported the decision, saying it will help the development and growth of the airport. This has caused embarrassment to the party.