LE Staff

New Delhi, July 17, 2021: The Delhi High Court has ruled that the tender conditions set out by the Airports Authority of India, inviting proposals for engaging agencies to provide Ground Handling Services at Group D-1 airports, contradicts the Atmanirbhar policy of the Central government and “stifles all attempts of smaller entrepreneurs to dream bigger”.

A Division Bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli held as discriminatory and arbitrary the conditions mentioned in the tender, which mandates previous work experience in providing Ground Handling Services with respect to scheduled aircrafts and laying down an annual turnover of Rs. 18 crore.

The High Court said the policy implemented by incorporating the offending terms and conditions “not only stares in the face of the proclaimed Atmanirbhar policy, but also mocks it”. 

The case pertains to the petitioner, Centre for Aviation Policy, Safety and Research (CAPSR), a non-profit organization, that had challenged the tender issued by AAI for separate categories of airports between January-July 2020. 

An objection was raised challenging the eligibility criteria stipulating technical and financial qualifications causing most of the ground handling agencies ineligible to participate in the tender process, especially those that have been providing GHS at the smaller airports of the country for many years. It was argued that the requirement of an annual turnover of Rs.18 crore would be impossible to be met by small enterprises and was thus, imaginary. 

Opposing the same, the AAI contended that clustering of airports was aimed at promoting regional connectivity and avoiding the cumbersome administrative task of inviting and dealing with separate tenders for each of the 49 airports under the D-1 category.

Calling it as an administrative decision taken for improving the overall functioning of the country’s airports, the AAI contended that such a stipulated step was taken by them in order to strengthen the civil aviation industry in the country. 

However, the Court observed that the actual impact of the differentiation carved out by the AAI not only made the right to bid illusory for potential bidders, but also made them ineligible, despite the fact that they had past experience and were best suited for such services.

Calling it a “thoughtlessly pursued policy”, the Court said the conditions imposed by the AAI tender will have the effect of strangulating the already-existing narrow margin of opportunities that were available to GHAs at Group D airports. 

Accordingly, the High Court quashed the tender issued by the AAI and directed them to come up with a fresh tender process.

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