Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday said that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government did not qualify in the international bidding process for Thiruvananthapuram airport, which was carried out in a transparent manner.

This came after the chief minister wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the Centre’s decision to hand over the airport to Adani Enterprises Limited for 50 years and convened an urgent all-party meeting to discuss the matter. Vijayan had said the Centre’s decision was “unilateral without giving credence to the cogent arguments” put forward by the state government, which will have to sign the agreement to handover the airport currently managed by the Airports Authority of India.

In a series of tweets, the aviation minister explained the airport’s privatisation process carried out last year. “Parallel narratives can be no match for facts,” he tweeted. “A campaign has been launched against the decision to privatise the Thiruvananthapuram airport.”

Puri said per passenger fee was the criteria for the bidding process conducted in early 2019 for six airports Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Mangalore, Jaipur, Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram. Adani Enterprises Limited emerged as the highest bidder for these airports. “It was stipulated that if the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation bid comes within the 10% range of the winning bid, they would be awarded the work,” he added. “There was a difference of 19.64% between them and the next bidder when bids were open.”

The minister added that the state government could not qualify in the international bidding process carried out in a transparent manner despite the special provision of right of first refusal. “Winning bid quoted Rs 168 per passenger, KSIDC quoted Rs 135 per passenger and third qualifying bidder was at Rs 63 per passenger,” Puri said. “They subsequently approached the hon’ble Kerala High Court and the hon’ble Supreme Court. All these facts are available in the public domain.”

Meanwhile, Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram constituency, supported Puri’s explanation. “This thread is quite accurate,” he tweeted. “GoK (government of Kerala) chose to participate in the bidding, under rules they agreed, and after losing in the fair process, started questioning the very game they had chosen to play. What really matters is the interests of the travellers of Thiruvananthapuram, not the government’s.”

On Wednesday, Tharoor had said that a private entity running the operations competitively is the only way this airport can flourish.

The Left government in Kerala along with the Congress-led United Democratic Front have criticised the Centre’s decision. Minister for Tourism Kadakampally Surendran, who is also in charge of the district, had claimed that this was “daylight looting” under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala had also said the state should be allowed to operate the premier airport.