The petition, which was submitted by the political organization Kerala Pravasi Association of Delhi, objected to Rule 135(1) of the 1937 Aircraft Rules, claiming that it is ambiguous, arbitrary, and illegal.
The petition highlighted that airlines have been charging irrational, excessive, and prohibitive costs to fly from the Gulf region countries to Kerala and the rest of India.
“Resultantly, Indian citizens who wish to travel to and from these countries primarily for employment, business, and education are facing serious impediments,” Khaleej Times quoted the petition statement.
“Furthermore, it is submitted that such unreasonable and exorbitant airfares impose restrictions on air travel as a mode of transportation and, thereby, infringe the constitutionally protected rights of the Indian passengers to or from Gulf countries,” the petition further read.
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Section 135, Aircraft Rules 1937
“I35. Tariff- (1) Every air transport undertaking operating by sub-rules (I) and (2) of rule 134 shall establish a tariff having regard to all relevant factors, including the cost of operation, characteristics of service, reasonable profit and the generally prevailing tariff.”
Although Rule 135(4) of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 (‘Rules’) empowers DGCA to issue directions to an airline in case it has established excessive tariff under Rule 135(1) or has indulged in oligopolistic practice; the said provision is rendered ineffective on account of the arbitrary and unbridled powers given under Rule 135(1) of the Rules to the airlines to establish tariffs.
The petitioners, Kerala Pravasi Association, demand immediate preliminary remedy in relation to airline prices or the repeal of Rule 135 (1). Senior NRI association members claim that this may be the first time a writ petition challenging rule 135 has been submitted.
Kuriakose Varghese, Supreme Court advocate and managing partner of KMNP Law, submitted the plea on behalf of the NRI group.
“The writ challenges Rule 135 (1) of Aircraft Rules, 1937. The pricing of airfares has to adhere to certain reasonable limits. Based on what the Court has ruled, we will not find a representation for the DGCA and take matters forward from there,” Kuriakose Varghese said.
According to Varghese, the practice of basing fares on the market makes it extremely lucrative and arbitrary. To which he explained, “We are glad the High Court has not quashed our petition. Instead, we have been asked to speak with the DGCA. Based on their response, we are willing to take matters to the Supreme Court of India.”
However, while petitions of this nature have been filed before, not many courts get involved in such matters as they are tricky, stated Varghese.
Many members of the Indian Parliament, community organizations in the United Arab Emirates, travel agencies, and other non-profit organizations have also brought up this matter, but to no avail.
“This is a matter of law being linked to economics. It is a very gray area of operation, and there is no transparency on the matter as stakeholders generally adopt a take it or leave it attitude, especially during peak travel time,” he added.
“Peak season India-UAE airfares can hike up to anything between Dh 1,500 to Dh 3,000, depending on the sector the passenger is flying. Kerala sector flights are among the most expensive,” said Rajendran Vellapalath, the chairman of the Kerala Pravasi Association.
“When two countries are involved in bilateral discussions, the civil aviation governing body can determine what sort of fare needs to be levied on passengers traveling between the sectors. The government can place a minimum or maximum cap on the ticket prices,” Vellapalath added.
“The government capped prices on domestic flights during peak Covid-19. Why can’t the same be done for international airlines as well,” Vellapalath asked.
As per Vellapalath, airlines have always maintained a lower capacity of operations between Gulf sectors to India during peak season.
“The role of the government is to help its people, not allow airlines to make a profile. If there is a shortage of capacity, then let them increase it. The public must not be fleeced,” argued Vellapalath.
Inputs from Khaleej Times