The Delhi High Court has declined to interfere with a central government order fixing minimum and maximum airfares of various sectors for three months till August 24, saying it was a policy decision and a "stop gap arrangement" during the Covid-19 crisis.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan further said that the May 21 order of the Ministry of Civil Aviation for a period of three months clearly stated that a minimum fare was fixed to restrict travel only to the performance of essential journeys.
"It ought to be kept in mind that, in the present circumstances when various restrictions have been placed on the airline operations, and maximum limit for air fare is given by the government, the minimum fare is also prescribed so as to strike a balance between the passengers as well as the airlines agency," the bench said in its order delivered on Thursday.
The bench said that in the present situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the exercise of this power by the government "cannot be said to be arbitrary or unreasonable".
It further said that it has to be kept in mind that problems being faced during the pandemic are unique and requires experimental solutions.
"There cannot be any mathematical solution for a problem like this. Government has to be given a degree of free movement in joints. We are, therefore, not going into the merits of this case," it said.
The observations of the bench came while disposing of a plea challenging the May 21 order of the ministry by Veer Vikrant Chauhan, who was aggrieved by the minimum cap on the air fare.
Chauhan, represented by advocate Vishal Gohri, had contended that there should be no minimum limit on airfare so that there would be competition between airlines and a much lesser ticket price would be available.
The high court disagreed with the contentions in the petition and said that "the exercise of tariff fixation, and economic matters in general, are issues on which the writ court would generally refrain from exercising jurisdiction, unless found to be totally arbitrary or unreasonable".
"We are not sitting in appeal against such fixation of minimum and maximum fare. It ought to be kept in mind that this fixation of minimum and maximum fares is for the journey to be performed only for essential purposes," it added.
The high court said that the May 21 order would be in operation only for three months and thus, it was "a stop gap arrangement by the government, for which the present public interest litigation is not tenable at law".
It also said that if any aggrieved party approaches the competent authority, a decision shall be taken in accordance with law, rules, regulations and government policy applicable to the facts of the case and without being influenced by the court's observations.