In a major revelation, a news report of The Indian Express claimed it has accessed documents that stated Adani Group fetched bids for six airports in 2019 despite objections that were raised by the Ministry of Finance and NITI Aayog.
The Adani Group won the deal to operate airports at Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram, and Guwahati for 50 years.
The Indian Express said report also added that Adani Group signed another dealojn August 31 last year to operate the Mumbai Airport.
According to a Scroll.in report, Newsclick had already reported "on how the Narendra Modi-led government bypassed norms to allow the Adani Group to gain entry into the airport business".
Records accessed by The Indian Express showed that the Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee had on December 11, 2018, discussed the Ministry of Civil Aviation's proposal for the privatisation of the airports.
A note from the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) said: "These six airports projects are highly capital-intensive projects, hence it is suggested to incorporate the clause that not more than two airports will be awarded to the same bidder duly factoring the high financial risk and performance issues. Awarding them to different companies would also facilitate yardstick competition."
The DEA even cited the example of the Delhi and Mumbai airports, where, GMR group "was not given both the airports even though the company was the only qualified bidder," the Scroll.in report said.
The NITI Aayog had also raised its concerns about the bidding on the same day as the DEA. "A bidder lacking sufficient technical capacity can well jeopardise the project and compromise the quality of services that the government is committed to provide," it said.
Responding to the objections, the Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPAC) said that "prior experience with airports may neither be made a prerequisite for bidding, nor a post-bid requirement".
The NITI Aayog had also raised a separate concern regarding the airport bidding in a note sent the same day. "A bidder lacking sufficient technical capacity can well jeopardise the project and compromise the quality of services that the government is committed to provide," the government memo mentioned.
But the PPAC rejected this objection, saying the empowered group of secretaries had already decided that "Prior airport experience may neither be made a prerequisite for bidding, nor a post-bid requirement."
One year after winning the bids, the Adani Group went on to sign concession agreements for the Ahmedabad, Lucknow, and Mangaluru airports. It asked for a delay in takeover till February 2021 amid the coronavirus crisis, citing difficulties related to the transition process.