Is Kerala Govt Sincere In Opposing Privatisation Of Thiruvananthapuram Airport?
On Friday, the ruling Communist Party of Marxist (CPM) Kerala state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had said that Kerala will not allow privatisation of Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (TIA). He also said that the Adani group would not be able to ignore the state’s protests and run the airport.
He added that the Kerala unit of CPM will send two lakh emails to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the central government's decision to privatise the airport.
Last Wednesday, the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation had given a green signal for the Adani Group to develop and run the 88-year-old Thiruvananthapuram International Airport for 50 years.
Adani Group were the bid winners in a tender in which the Kerala government had also participated.
While the Adani Group won the bid riding on the highest per-passenger fee of Rs 168 to the Airport Authority of India (AAI), Kerala’s State Industries Development Corporation (KSIDC), offered only Rs 135.
There was an option for the Kerala government to claim the right to run the airport if its bid had come within the 10% range of the winning bid. But the difference was 19.64%. Eventually, Kerala lost the game.
However, the Kerala government, the ruling CPM and the Indian National Congress-led opposition, sans Congress parliamentarian Dr Shashi Tharoor, are up in arms against the central government’s decision.
The Kerala CM even wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting that management and operation need to be vested with the state government.
KSIDC And TIAL
The key question though is whether the Kerala government is really against privatisation of Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.
Interestingly, documents collected by The Lede reveal that the Kerala government also had privatisation plans.
The Kerala government had ‘floated’ a company - Thiruvananthapuram Airport International Limited - to own, develop and run the Thiruvananthapuram airport.
State-owned Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) was entrusted to get TIAL the airport. It was KSIDC which took part in the bidding representing TIAL.
According to a financial analyst, the Kerala government would have had less than 30% stake in TIAL.
“It means that TIAL would be a private company. A government can have a say only if they have 51% or above in a company. Even in the Kannur and Cochin airports, the government stake is around 30%. In both places, even Comptroller and Auditor General auditing cannot be done, technically, because they are a private company,” L Narayan, the analyst, said.
“So, even if TIAL had managed to get the bid, Thiruvananthapuram airport would have been a private airport. Now Adani has 100% stake. It’s a private company. What is the difference?” Narayan asked.
Kerala has four airports. Cochin and Kannur are public-private partnership airports. Kozhikode airport is under the Airports Authority of India (AAI). Thiruvananthapuram will be managed by Adani under AAI.
On Friday, V Muraleedharan, the Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs had told the media that it is the double standards of the government of Kerala that becomes very clear by this letter because, on one hand, the Kerala government have these private airports at Calicut and Kannur with a mere 32.5% and 30.16% stakes for the state.
"So when you can have private airports then why can't one have airports to be operated, managed, and developed by private agencies? So, this is a double standard that the government of Kerala has on this issue," he said.
Commenting on the row, Hardeep Singh Puri, the Civil Aviation Minister, tweeted - If Kerala government is against privatisation, then why did it participate in the bidding process?
“The state government was given a fair chance and Right of First Refusal (RoFR) if their bid was within 10% below the range of the highest bid. However, they bid 19.64% below,” the minister’s tweet read.
Retweeting the minister’s tweet, Thiruvananthapuram MP Tharoor wrote that “GoK chose to participate in the bidding, under rules they agreed, & after losing in the fair process, started questioning the very game they had chosen to play. What matters is the interests of the travellers of Thiruvananthapuram, not the government's.”
Links To Adani, PNB Scam
Meanwhile, an RTI document in possession with The Lede reveals that KSDIC had paid Rs 1.5 crore for KPMG to prepare a project for TIAL and Rs 55 lakh for Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas as a fee for preparing the bid.
Now, it has been found that Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, the Mumbai based law firm owned by Cyril Shroff, is the father-in-law of Gautam Adani’s son Karan. Gautam Adani’s daughter-in-law Paridhi is also said to be a partner of the company.
Commenting on the strange connection, Kerala opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala told The Lede – “We have to believe that the Kerala government had taken help from its competitor. Government should come clear on this. Can somebody keep an advisor who is advising the opponent? This is quite strange,” he added.
The Lede has also found that Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is under the CBI lens for its connection with Nirav Modi in the Punjab National Bank scam.
Before fleeing, Nirav Modi had moved 24,000 documents to Cyril’s office in 2018 and the CBI had found the same in a raid.
The CBI also found that Rs 2.2 crore was given by Nirav Modi to Cyril.