The Congress on Wednesday questioned as to why the Prime Minister's Office "ignored" Niti Aayog recommendations against handing over six airports to an "inexperienced" Adani Group, a day after Rahul Gandhi linked the meteoric rise in the wealth of the business conglomerate to the BJP coming to power.
In the Congress' HAHK (Hum Adani Ke Hain Kaun) series, the party's general secretary Jairam Ramesh posed a set of three questions to the BJP, asking how the group became the largest airport operator in the country in a short span on time.
He also alleged that while the Congress-led UPA government promoted competition in the sector, the BJP dispensation favoured one business group.
In 2006, the United Progressive Alliance government awarded concessions to the GMR and GVK groups to operate Delhi and Mumbai airports respectively for a period of 30 years, he said.
On November 7, 2006, the Supreme Court upheld these privatisation along with the condition that each bidder needed to partner with an experienced airport operator, he said.
Even though GMR had emerged as the top bidder in both cases, it was decided not to award both the airports to the firm in the interests of competition, the Congress leader claimed.
However, the BJP government in 2019 gave the right to operate six airports -- Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Mangalore, Jaipur, Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram -- to the Adani Group, which had zero prior experience of operating airports, for a period of 50 years, Ramesh said.
He claimed the airports were handed over to the group despite a NITI Aayog memo of December 10, 2018 arguing that "a bidder lacking sufficient technical capacity" could "jeopardise the project and compromise the quality of services the government is committed to provide".
On the same day as the NITI Aayog filed its objection, a note from the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) in the Ministry of Finance strongly recommended that not more than two airports be awarded to a single bidder so as to reduce risk and to facilitate competition, he claimed.
"Why did the PMO and the NITI Aayog chairman, who headed the Empowered Group of Secretaries, ignore this recommendation and facilitate a clean sweep of six airports by the inexperienced Adani Group," the Congress leader asked.
He also pointed out that the model Request for Quotes (RFQ) document though gave points for project experience outside the airports sector, the experience in the airports sector was important.
"Yet this too was ignored by the ruling dispensation in its rush to help its cronies. Who instructed the Empowered Group of Secretaries to set aside this prior condition, thus clearing the way for the Adani Group to build a virtual monopoly in the sector," he asked.
The Adani Group's takeover of Mumbai airport should be a case study in crony capitalism, he also said, claiming that the GVK group had vigorously contested the Adani Group’s attempts to buy a stake in Mumbai airport in 2019, going to the courts and raising funds to buy out its joint venture partners Bidvest and ACSA.
"Yet in August 2020, only one month following raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED), GVK felt compelled to sell its most valuable asset to the Adani Group.
"What happened to the CBI and ED investigations against GVK? How did they miraculously disappear after the sale of Mumbai airport to the Adani Group? Are those cases being used to apply pressure on GVK to defend the very group that forced it to divest India’s second busiest airport," he asked.
Business conglomerate GVK Group on Wednesday categorically said there was no "extraneous pressure" from anyone to sell its stake in Mumbai airport as alleged by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
The company's comments came a day after Gandhi alleged in Lok Sabha that "Mumbai airport was taken away from GVK using agencies such as the CBI and the ED, and was given to Adani by the Government of India".
"GVK reiterates that the decision to sell its stakes in Mumbai Airport to Adani, was taken by the management and there was absolutely no question of any extraneous pressure being exerted on us," a GVK Group spokesperson told PTI.
The Adani Group, which is currently in the eye of a storm over the recent report by short-seller Hindenburg Research related to its company's business dealings, took over the management of the Mumbai airport from GVK Group in July 2021.