New Delhi: The Delhi High Court (HC) has quashed a recent tender floated by Airports Authority of India (AAI) for engaging agencies for providing Ground Handling Services (GHS) at Group D-1 airports. The HC said that the proposal "subverts" the Atmanirbhar Bharat policy and stifles all attempts of smaller entrepreneurs to dream bigger. A Division Bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli observed in a recent judgment issued on July 14 that the conditions mandating previous work experience in providing GHS and an annual turnover of Rs 18 crore are discriminatory and arbitrary.
"The policy implemented by incorporating the offending terms and conditions that we have taken note of hereinabove, not only stares in the face of the proclaimed Atmanirbhar policy, but also mocks it. It stifles all attempts of smaller entrepreneurs to dream bigger, let alone big," said the judgment.
While quashing the tender floated by AAI, the HC asked the PSU to come up with a fresh tender. "We are of the view that the decision to carry out region-wise sub-categorisation of the 49 airports falling under Group D1; the stipulation that only previous work experience in respect of providing GHS to scheduled aircrafts shall be considered acceptable for the purpose of the impugned tender/RFP and the revised minimum Annual Turnover criteria of INR 18 crore are discriminatory and arbitrary and, require to be struck down," said the judgment.
"We, accordingly, quash the tender/RFP in question in respect of Group D-1 airports and permit the respondents to come up with a fresh tender process keeping in view our aforesaid findings," it added.
The RfP issued by AAI was challenged by Centre for Aviation Policy, Safety and Research (CAPSR), a non-profit organisation. The tender had classified 83 airports under AAI's control into four categories — A, B, C and D. The Group D airports comprised of 49 Group D-1 airports and one Group D-2 airport. These were further classified into four categories on the basis of geographical groups. The tender made it mandatory for bidders to bid for an entire cluster of airports as opposed to a single airport, as had been the practice until then. The rule book was only changed for Group D airports, as for Group A, B and C airports, bids were to be placed for individual airports only.
The petitioner raised objection to the tender's eligibility criteria stipulating technical and financial qualifications, which rendered most of the GHS agencies ineligible to participate in the tender process, especially those that have been providing GHS at smaller airports for many years. CAPSR also argued that the requirement of an annual turnover of Rs 30 crore (which was later reduced to Rs 18 crore) would be impossible to meet by small enterprises.