A Right to Information (RTI) application, filed by activist Sanjay Shirodkar with the ministry of civil aviation on 19 March 2019, reveals that the projects have been announced without even waiting for Cabinet approval. The RTI response says, “The ministry is still in the process of obtaining approval of the cabinet for awarding the projects in this regard.’’
The reply further indicates that the finance ministry has not framed any rules that require a business house to have relevant prior experience before applying for the projects.
Mr Shirodkar, who has been relentlessly pursuing the issue of privatisation of airports through the last one and a half decade, filed an RTI application seeking a true copy of the approval granted by the minister of civil aviation for the five airport projects named above, to the Adani group.
In the same application, he also asked for a true copy of rules framed by the Central government in 2007 stating that tenders for sector-specific infrastructure projects do not require firms to have prior experience in that sector in order to participate.
The CPIO (chief public information officer), civil aviation, forwarded the RTI application to Manoj Kumar Madholia, deputy director in the department of economic affairs (PPP cell) , who replied on 1 April 2019 to say that “the PPP cell of department of economic affairs has not formulated any rules as indicated in point 7 of the RTI request. Therefore, as per Section 6 (3) of the RTI Act, the application is transferred back to the ministry of civil aviation to collect the desired information from the department of expenditure, ministry of finance, which deals with public procurement legislation and rules, notifications, and order.”
Mr Shirodkar’s RTI application also asked for the following details:
1. Provide a true copy of reservations expressed by the ministry of corporate affairs (MoCA) on this issue (award of five airports to Adani group).
2. Provide a true copy of the contract agreement signed between MoCA/GoI and Adani Enterprises for the five airports.
3. Provide a true copy of mandatory consultations done by MoCA/GoI with the states and the public before awarding the five projects to Adani Enterprises.
4. Provide a true copy of correspondence between your office (civil aviation) and prime minister’s office for the period 1 April 2018 till date on the said subjects.
The civil aviation ministry has rejected information on all these issues citing Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act. The CPIO said, “Your points from 1 to 6 are exempted under the provision of 8(1) of the RTI Act.”
Interestingly, the digital and video magazine, Newclick, in an investigative report published on the 27th March, had reported that, “The Union ministry of civil aviation has conceded in the Rajya Sabha, that the ‘prescribed procedure (of) public consultation or consultation with the state governments (which) are mandatory for leasing out the Airports Authority of India (AAI) airports through (the) PPP (public private partnership) mode’ were not adhered to.”
This was in response to many objections raised to the grant of the project.
Newsclick had also reported that cabinet clearance, which is necessary for the transfer of airports from the AAI (Airport Authority of India) to the Adani group, had not yet come through and such a clearance seemed unlikely to happen since the model code of conduct, in the run up to the general elections had already been announced.
Newsclick also said that it had documents to show that the government had “violated various laws and procedures while arriving at its decision to privatise the six airports that are currently owned and operated by the AAI. In addition, the recommendations made by the department of economic affairs (DEA) in the ministry of finance and the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog on the technical, financial and legal aspects of the bidding process were ignored. Instead, conditions were set up that apparently favoured the Adani group.”
In the context of his RTI application, Mr Shirodkar says, “How can such a huge national asset, in the form of five airports be handed over to a private party without the approval of cabinet secretariat?”
He also questioned the legality of the very tender asking for bids to develop, operate and maintain Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mangalore and Guwahati Airports under the PPP mode.
On denial of information on the deal, he says, “any national asset which goes under the PPP mode should be in the public domain and disclosued transparently on a suo moto basis, without waiting for a RTI application.”
Instead, he says, “time and again information on PPP projects is denied, under provisions of Section 8 of the act. This is a big infrastructure fraud by the government.”
Mr Shirodkar says he is astonished to know that the department of economic affairs in the ministry of finance has not formulated any rule on allowing private parties, which have no business experience to apply. Then on what basis did Adani Enterprises qualify for these tenders, he asks.
Moreover, unlike the Delhi and Mumbai airports, wherein the GMR and the GVK groups have entered into a 74:26 joint venture (JV) with AAI and have to share profits, the Adani group will be handed over the airports completely for itself for 50 years under the PPP model.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”