Amid the disquieting silence of the state government, the Adani Group will formally take over the Trivandrum airport on Thursday. Thus far, the state government has been claiming — both inside and outside the assembly — that it will not allow the Adani Enterprises to take over the airport.
Under the circumstances, the employees attached to the Airport Authority Employees Union (AAEU) — the Left-affiliated union that had been holding protests against the privatisation of the airport for three years — share a sense of disappointment as they had pinned hopes on the tall promises of the state government. At the same time, various trade bodies remain upbeat over the takeover. They say privatisation will bring more amenities to the airport.
The airport has around 600 Airports Authority of India (AAI) employees — including executive and non-executive staff — who will have to work with the Adani Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, the wholly owned subsidiary of the Adani Enterprises, for the next three years. After three years of joint operation, they can either join the private entity or can opt for other airports under the AAI.
AAEU state president K P Suresh told TNIE that it was pointless to move to other airports. “The AAI has plans to privatise around 25 airports in south Indian states including the Kozhikode airport in the coming years in a phased manner. And they have been moving ahead with such a plan. So our main demand to the management is to allow us to continue to work here till our retirement,” he said.
Another senior leader said, though the case filed by the union and the state government challenging the privatisation of the airport is pending before the Supreme Court, the chances of the central decision getting revoked is very remote.
“The state government has already weakened its position by bidding for the airport along with Adani. Even the court criticised the state government saying it has no locus standi, and that its claims are equal to proverbial sour grapes. It was the state government that ditched the employees first,” he said.
The Adani Enterprises had emerged as the highest bidder for five of the six airports offered for bidding by the AAI in February 2019. While it had taken charge of the other five airports earlier, the takeover of the Thiruvananthapuram airport was delayed due to litigations.
The new airport company will pay a sum of Rs 168 per domestic passenger to the AAI as part of the privatisation agreement signed for 50 years. The rate for the international passenger would be two-fold of that for the domestic passenger.
The Adani Group has deputed a team comprising around 50 people to oversee the takeover, and all the AAI staff are mandated to report to the staff appointed by the new dispensation. The current airport director appointed by the AAI is likely to be transferred to another AAI-run airport in three months as the new entity has appointed a chief airport officer who will be at the helm of the airport from now on. However, the air traffic control unit and the communication staff of the airport will continue to remain under the AAI.
Meanwhile, various trade bodies including the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry are upbeat over the privatisation. For they feel the new entity would bring more passenger amenities to the airport, apart from better connectivity.
D Dhanuraj, chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Research, said, “Privatisation is expected to raise the airport to international standards. But the way six airports have been awarded to Adani is somewhat disquieting as it may lead to a kind of cartelisation in the future. But in our experience so far, the privatisation of airports has only raised the standard of airports in India so far,” he said.
READY FOR TAKEOFF
Formal takeover of T’Puram airport on Thursday morning
600 Airports Authority of India employees are working at the airport at present
A168 will be paid by the new airport company to the AAI per each domestic passenger as part of the privatisation agreement signed for 50 years.
This article was published in The New Indian Express