SC Irked Over Lack of Air Connectivity to Shimla and NE Region
The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, took strong note of lack of air connectivity to places in the North East and Shimla and rapped the government and Air India for “promoting interests” of private operators.
A bench comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice R Banumathi said:
Is it not part of your policy guidelines to provide services to far-flung places like North East and Shimla. You (government/Air India) are only promoting interests of operators and you don’t think about connectivity. This (granting licenses) is like largesse, as you grant them without asking them (private operators) to run services on not so lucrative routes. We do not want this dilly-dallying. We thought you will do something, but things remained as they were.
Additional Solicitor General, PS Patwalia, appearing for the state-run carrier, sought time and said Air India would come out with a response. The court then posted the matter for further hearing on 21 April.
Earlier, the apex court had wanted to know from the airline about its “ultimate plan” to connect Shimla with New Delhi and Chandigarh and asked Air India’s Chairman and Managing Director to place a report within six weeks.
It had however ordered maintenance of status quo on the 7 December 2015 direction, passed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court asking Air India, Airports Authority of India and others concerned to start scheduled flights on a trial basis from Jubbar-Hatti airport, 22 km from Shimla.
The high court had passed the order on a petition by a local resident on the possibility of resuming Delhi-Shimla flight service from Jubbar-Hatti airport, which remains non-operational for past three years.
In the high court, it was alleged that despite crores of rupee being invested on the airport, Shimla remained without air connectivity despite being a capital town.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, who had appeared for Air India CMD, said that the airline is examining the suggestions to at least connect Shimla and Chandigarh with a 40- seater aircraft as the runway at Jubbar-Hatti Airport is very small.
He explained various other constrains, including the non-availability of refuelling facility in Shimla and certain security hazards. He said the issue of economic viability was also there. He had also told the bench that two tourist towns – Kullu and Dharamsala – were already connected by air.
Air India had challenged the Himachal Pradesh High Court order to start scheduled flights on trial basis.