NEW DELHI, April 12 (IANS): The Supreme Court on Tuesday slammed the government policy allowing private airlines to fly to lucrative destinations without putting them under the obligation of catering to less economical routes like Himachal Pradesh and the Northeast.
"If you are 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 and Nicobar Islands," asked the bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice R Banumathi.
Describing as "bluff" the government's position that it has framed the guidelines and was strictly adhering to them, the bench mockingly observed that the economic interest of private operators was being taken care of without any concern for air routes like Himachal Pradesh and the northeastern states.
Describing it as "largesse" to the private airlines without "insisting on corresponding obligations to cater to less lucrative routes", the court said: "We will go into the system."
The court also mentioned a petition by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy questioning the agreement between India and the UAE allegedly permitting Etihad Airways to carry 36,670 more passengers over and above the permitted number of 13,330 passengers per week.
The agreement between India and Abu Dhabi was signed in April 2013 and another agreement between Jet Airways and Etihad was signed in December 2013. Swamy had in 2013 challenged the Jet-Etihad deal and its approval by the government.
As Additional Solicitor General P.S. Patwalia, appearing for Air India, told the court that Shimla was a small airport with all its accompanied difficulties, the court said it was not going to be carried away by all this and it would bring out some more skeletons.
Reminding Patwalia that in the course of the last hearing on March 15, 2016, he had said, "we will do something", the court said: "We thought you will come back and tell us that this group will operate flights" to Shimla airport.
With the court leaving no doubt about its intentions, Patwalia said he has "understood the sentiments of the court" and would convey the same to the right quarters as the court directed the next hearing on April 21.
The court was hearing a petition by national carrier Air India challenging the Himachal Pradesh High Court's December 7, 2015 order asking it to commence flights on a trial basis connecting Shimla and Delhi.
The national carrier had earlier told the court that a flight connecting Shimla with Delhi was not economical as there were 12-15 one-way passengers only.
The apex court had on December 16, 2015, ordered status quo, thereby putting on hold the December 7 high court direction to Air India.