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ERNAKULAM: Kerala assembly on Monday passed a resolution against the Union Cabinet's decision to award a 50-year contract to run the Trivandrum International Airport to Adani Enterprises Limited instead of a state-run company.

The resolution was passed unanimously, said speaker P Sreeramakrishnan.

Adani Enterprises had won the rights to run six airports, including the Trivandrum airport, after a competitive bidding process in February 2019. The Center approved the grant last week for rights of operation, management and development of the airport.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who moved the resolution, urged the union government to reconsider its decision and said the state "had agreed to offer the same rate as Adani". The state government had on Friday also filed an application in the Kerala High Court seeking to stay all further proceedings based on the Centre's order. Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Friday that the award to Adani Entreprises will be subject to the outcome of this petition.

"Central government should pay heed to the common sentiment in the state, which is to hand over operations and supervision of the airport to a state-operated Special Purpose Vehicle under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) method. We have experience in the development of greenfield airports at Cochin & Kannur under the PPP mode, whereas, the company that the center has awarded has no prior experience in running an airport."

Passing a unanimous resolution in the state assembly is an often-used tactic by legislators to show common sentiments from a state, and helps build pressure on the Centre. However, it poses no direct legal consequence to the contract won by the company.

Kerala's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) led coalition and the main opposition Congress has been bent on blocking the privatisation move, to keep the airport under the state control. At the crux of the debate is a question of transferring public land.

The government claims that it had earlier transferred 23.57 acres, worth 250 crore now, to Airport Authority of India or AAI, which was operating the airport until now. It claims the land was transferred free of cost for construction of the airport's international terminal, subject to the condition that the value of the land would be reflected as its share capital in a state-run company, when the airport is privatised. The government is in the process of taking over another 300 acres of prime land for the airport, and has threatened to not cooperate with the AAI if the airport were to be given to a private company.

However, many, including Congress leader and Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor, have dismissed the government's demands. The state government’s complaint about the outcome, after fully participating in the bidding process, merely exposes its double standards, Tharoor said in an interview to Times of India on Monday.

The state-run Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) was given first priority in the bidding process by the AAI, to the extent that if their bid value came within the 10% range of the winning bid, they would be awarded the work. But there was a difference of 19.64% between them and the winning bid by Adani Entreprises when bids were opened.

The government's concerns about public land being transferred to a private party is also unfounded, said Tharoor. "The ownership of land and airport, as well as the responsibilities of ATC, security, customs, and immigration still remain with government agencies. No one is ‘giving away’ the airport. This is simply an operating contract," he said.

Interestingly, Tharoor's Congress party was opposed to his view and backed the government's resolution on Monday. On matters related to the state's welfare, the ruling and opposition parties in Kerala have always taken a united stand, said Congress' opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.

However, the extent of support came with a political charge against the government for availing the services of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas or CAM, one of India's top law firms, as a legal consultant for bidding. The Congress alleged conflict of interest by the company, as one of its board members come from the Adani family. CAM has denied any such conflict of interest to the press, and said they only looked into the legal proceedings related to the bidding.

“The government is publicly criticising Adani but is helping them behind closed doors," said Chennithala. Congress MLA VD Satheeshan said “the government’s bid value was leaked to Adani" and called for an investigation.

“They had no role in quoting the bid value. They were only availed for vetting the legal matters," the CM replied.

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