The change in eligibility criteria to participate in tenders for providing ground handling services in various regional airports was on Thursday criticised by the Delhi high court which said the central government was being "hypocritical" with regard to promoting local entrepreneurs.
The high court was critical of the political leadership and said it was "pained" that on one hand the government talks of 'make in India' and being 'Atmanirbhar' and on the other it floats tenders which would oust small entities from participating in ground handling operations in regional airports.
"What really irks is that if you really want to oust these people (small entities), then say so. Don't be hypocritical in your speeches. Your political leadership speak of make in India, they speak of Atmanirbhar bharat, they speak about encouraging local industry, but your actions don't match your words. You are being completely hypocritical," said a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar.
The bench asked Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Centre and Airport Authority of India, to speak to the political leadership that if they want to proceed in this manner then why are they making the speeches on make in India.
"Are they (political leadership) even aware of this being done," the bench asked.
"We are saying stop importing from this country or that country and on the other hand we are also failing our own entrepreneurs," the bench said.
Referring to the tender eligibility criteria like having an annual turnover of over Rs 35 crore and experience of having worked with scheduled airlines, the high court said, "You want big players with big pockets, and maybe foreign tie-ups, to come in".
It also said that the smaller players would have worked at regional airports where flights of scheduled airlines are few or not at all and therefore, their experience of ground handling with non-scheduled or chartered airlines was being ignored.
"If you (Centre and AAI) want to oust them, then say so. Don't be hypocritical about it. If this is your policy, then have the courage to say so.
"Then don't talk about indigenisation or make in India, provide in India. Don't talk of all these things," the bench said and added, "We are pained that you are wanting to oust the smaller players".
The high court said if smaller players are not allowed to grow, then there will only be the established bigger players who due to their market dominance would start dictating terms to the government.
"Today we are talking of this nationalistic feeling that we must produce in India, serve in India, that we must be Atmanirbhar. What is happening to all that? is this the way to approach the situation," the bench told the government during the hearing via video conferencing.
\It further said that the country was being "indifferent and insensitive" to promoting our own entrepreneurs and there were many instances where people have shut shop and moved out saying it was difficult to manufacture or run a business here.
The observations were made by the bench while hearing a plea challenging the change in eligibility criteria to participate in the latest tenders floated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for providing ground handling services (GHS) at various regional airports in the country.
It was hearing the plea by Centre for Aviation Policy, Safety and Research (CAPSR), an association representing agencies providing ground handling and various other services at airports in the country.
The high court issued notice to the Centre and AAI seeking their stand on the plea by CAPSR, which was represented by advocate S S Mishra.
The bench said the award of the tenders would be subject to the further orders in the petition.
CAPSR in its plea has sought quashing of the tenders floated by AAI with regard to GHS at smaller airports in the country or directions to AAI to alter the eligibility criteria so that everyone, including the existing ground handling agencies, can participate.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com.