The Delhi High Court today held that Terminal-1 (T-1) of the IGI Airport here cannot be given exclusively to IndiGo Airlines simply because it suits a "corporate goliath" and the air carrier cannot claim monopoly over this aviation hub.
The court observed that the decision of Delhi International Airport Ltd's (DIAL) to partially shift IndiGo operations from T-1 to T-2 cannot be said to be unreasonable only because it may operate harshly against that airline.
"If we may twist the American idiom, 'my way or the highway' to fit the present context, then IndiGo cannot be heard to say that it is either their way, or the run way. IndiGo are tending to forget that this part relocation from T-1 to T-2 proposed by DIAL, is only a temporary measure and once T-1 is renovated and commences its operations after capacity building, all the airlines can operate from there full throttle and take wings," a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Rekha Palli said while upholding the order of a single judge accepting DIAL's decision.
The bench turned down the suggestion of IndiGo that T-1 be dedicated exclusively to its use and low-cost carrier SpiceJet be asked to move its entire operations to T-2, and said this sprang from IndiGo's own commercial considerations and not made in the larger public good.
It said SpiceJet was as much a business rival of IndiGo as GoAir was a competitor of these two private carriers. IndiGo may be on top of the heap if the volume of passenger traffic is seen, but this would not entitle Indigo to claim monopoly over T-1 to the exclusion of the rest, it added.
"Such a suggestion of 'only us and none else' at T-1, if implemented, would have reduced it into a one horse race, giving a clear edge to IndiGo, over its competitors and DIAL would have been accused of adopting a partisan approach of promoting IndiGo's dominant position instead of offering a level playing field to all the low cost carriers.
"DIAL has not shown bias but has tried to balance the interests all the parties as best as is possible, given the severe constraints of available space," the bench said.
It said that simply because it suits a "corporate goliath" like IndiGo with its voluminous passenger traffic to remain in T-1, will not mean that SpiceJet should be boxed in a corner and completely nudged out from T-1, only because its volume of passenger traffic is one fourth that of IndiGo.
The bench, which dismissed IndiGo's appeal saying it was meritless, however, held that there was merit in the submission of SpiceJet's counsel that any attempt on IndiGo's part to claim exclusive use of T-1 was bound to hurt its (SpiceJet) business prospects and will be anti-competitive.
"We are of the opinion that there is no illegality, arbitrariness or infirmity in the impugned judgement that warrants interference," the bench said.
The decision came on IndiGo's plea challenging its single judge order of December 20 last year, upholding DIAL's October 21, 2017, decision to partially shift the operations of Indigo, GoAir and SpiceJet from T-1 to T-2 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here.
The bench observed that the single judge has gone to the extent of watering down the option given by DIAL to IndiGo and SpiceJet by directing that in the event they make a request to shift one third of their operations by excluding the three identified sectors, that is Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, they may do so within one week from today.
It granted a last opportunity of a week to both the airlines to approach the airport regulator to suggest the other sectors they would be willing to shift from T-1 to T-2, as long as they collectively met the yardstick of one third passenger traffic volumes of their operations at T-1.
It said if DIAL receives any such request within the stipulated timeline, it shall consider and take a decision within one week and, if no such request is made, the airport regulator shall fix a deadline for shifting one third of the flight operations of the concerned airlines from T-1 to T-2, under written intimation to them.
While upholding DIAL's decision, the single judge had given the airlines time till February 15 to partially shift their operations.
GoAir shifted all its operations to T-2, saying partial shifting of its operations would "kill" it as it was a smaller airline.
The bench said public interest lies in expediting the redevelopment activity at T-1, which is a purely administrative decision.
It said the date of shifting a part of the operations from T-1 has had to be pushed thrice over, thereby delaying the date of commencement and postponing the conclusion of the renovation work.
The bench said IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir are not being banished forever from T-1 and this part relocation was only a temporary measure.
"It is settled law that when public interest competes with private interest, then the latter has to give way to public interest," it said.