Nothing is beyond politics in Kerala. The proposed redevelopment of the Thiruvananthapuram airport under the Public-Private Partnership model is the latest to kick up a political storm. As per an earlier decision, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared handing over of the airport, along with the ones in Jaipur and Guwahati, to Adani Enterprises on a 50-year lease for development, management and operation.
Immediately, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan shot off a letter to the prime minister, declaring his government’s intention to not cooperate with the implementation of what he called a “unilateral decision”, and the Congress said it too is against privatisation of a “state asset”. Interestingly, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who represents Thiruvananthapuram in Parliament, chose to differ with his party, saying he speaks in the best interests of his constituency.
Adani Enterprises won the right to operate the airport in a global competitive bidding process, in which the Kerala government too participated but lost. It then took legal recourse, and the case is still pending. The fact is the airport in the state capital is in need of a makeover. Besides lacking in terms of a modern look and facilities, the airport hasn’t been able to execute expansion projects like the construction of a new ATC building and a new integrated terminal.
Our experience with other airports in the country shows privatisation can bring in the necessary modernisation and lend facilities a competitive edge. The performance of the privately run Bengaluru and Hyderabad airports in comparison to the AAI-operated Chennai airport is a case in point. The difference is in the way they are run.
From a passenger’s point of view, privatisation would mean more amenities and better services. It could also mean an increase in passenger and cargo traffic, as the private operator would be looking to maximise returns, which would in turn benefit both the city and the state. Agreed that the airport is one of the few profit-making facilities under the AAI’s control, but that doesn’t mean it will remain profitable without modernisation and expansion. The privatisation could prove to be a game-changer for the airport. It’s selfish to obstruct its development for the sake of politics.