Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the Centre’s decision to hand over Thiruvananthapuram airport to the Adani Group for 50 years, NDTV reported on Thursday. Vijayan said the move was against “the assurance given during a personal meeting with prime minister in New Delhi”.

On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved a proposal to lease out the Jaipur, Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram airports through a public-private partnership model. Currently, these airports are managed by the Airports Authority of India.

“The assurance was that as and when the indication of a private player is considered, Government of India would factor in contributions made by the state government for the development of the Trivandrum Airport,” Vijayan said in his letter to the prime minister. He said Kerala had repeatedly requested that the airport’s operations and management be transferred to a Special Purpose Vehicle in which the state government is a major stakeholder.

Vijayan said the Kerala government had in 2005 transferred 23.57 acres of land free of cost to the Airports Authority of India, to build an international terminal, on the condition that the land value should be reflected as the state’s share capital in a Special Purpose Vehicle. Vijayan told Modi in his letter that the state government will “not be able to fully cooperate” due to the unilateral decision taken by the Centre to give the airport to private players.

All-party meeting called to discuss matter

The Kerala government has called an all-party meeting at 4 pm to discuss the Centre’s decision to transfer the airport to the Adani Group, PTI reported. The meeting, called by Vijayan, will be held via videoconferencing.

Adani Enterprises had won the rights to manage six airports – Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Guwahati – through the public-private partnership in February 2019.

Congress opposes privatisation, Shashi Tharoor backs it

The Opposition Congress has also opposed the Centre’s move. “The Union government’s decision to award operations of Trivandrum Airport to Adani Group on a 50-year lease amidst the COVID crisis is a deplorable move,” Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said in a tweet. “The airport is the state’s property, and must not be privatised.” He claimed that the Centre is trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to hand over all public sector units to private companies.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President Mullapally Ramachandran said “none of us need to be on the payroll of these corporate giants”. He called for protests to force the Narendra Modi-led government to withdraw its decision.

But Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor welcomed the Centre’s move. “The people of Thiruvananthapuram want a first-class airport worthy of the city’s history, status, and potential,” he tweeted. “The reality is that a private entity running the operations competitively is the only way this airport could flourish.” Tharoor also said he would have explained his views to his fellow Congress members had they consulted him.

State minister Kadakampally Surendran attacked Tharoor, calling his stand “treacherous”. He claimed that Tharoor had been “batting for this businessman [Adani]”. “Tharoor is taking a shameless stand for Adani,” Surendran said. “He should withdraw the statement and apologise to the people.”

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that six airports had now been sold to the Adani Group. “At this rate, AAI (Airports Authority of India) could well mean ‘Adani Airports of India’,” he tweeted.