SC notice to centre on Swamy's petition against Jet-Etihad deal

The Supreme Court has given four weeks to the centre to respond to a petition filed by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy seeking a stay on the Jet-Etihad Airways deal, which, according to him, is inimical to the interests of national carrier Air India.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to aviation ministry, commerce ministry, FIPB, Jet Airways and Etihad and gave them four weeks' time to respond to a petition filed by Subramanian Swamy seeking a stay on the Jet-Etihad deal.

Subramanian Swamy in his petition has argued that the Jet-Etihad deal would affect an already bleeding Air India and take away what little has left for the national airline to stay afloat.

Swami, in his petition, has contended that India's sky is being bartered away to foreigners, which would turn India into a mere ''transit stop for cities like Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.''

The petitioner also questioned the aviation ministry's largesse of more than doubling the number of seats available to UAE airliners under the India-UAE bilateral aviation pact, which was largely instrumental in getting the Jet-Etihad deal through.

The apex court issued notices to the centre, ministries and departments concerned, Jet Airways and UAE's Etihad Airways on the petition challenging the deal and sought their responses within four weeks.

A bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said it will not straightaway pass any order and would rather seek the central government's response to it.

"We have to consider your petition. We cannot pass any order. We will issue notice. Let them file the reply," the bench said.

The bench also took note of the prime minister's silence and failure to respond to Swamy's letter on the issue when he had made a representation before him.

The bench said it had gone through Swamy's petition and spent more than an hour on it.

During the brief hearing, Swamy submitted that the deal was against public interest as the government has been squandering the country's natural resource, including the sky and air space.

He also pointed out that the deal was cleared against the advice of the Parliament's select committee and other advisory bodies.

Swamy also referred to the CAG's finding of reckless allocation of air space to foreign airlines.

The nine respondents to whom notices have been issued are the central government, ministry of finance, ministry of commerce, ministry of external affairs, Foreign Investment Promotion Board, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Jet Airways and Etihad Airways.

"The petitioner challenges such arbitrary, irrational and malafide act of grant of largesse in the form of bilateral/ MoU dated April 24 and by way of the present petition seeks an investigation under the supervision of this court into the matters of national and public interest," he said in his petition.

He also sought a CBI probe against the government officials who had cleared the deal.

He questioned the government's decision to execute the agreement in favour of Abu Dhabi under the existing Air Service Agreement between the governments of India and United Arab Emirates.

"The actions of the authorities from the execution of the bilateral to the unprecedented haste in order to assist the realisation of wrongful gains by the facilitator are writ large with acts of collusion and abuse of position," the petition contended.

Jet Airways had, on April 24, announced plans to sell 24 per cent equity to Etihad Airways for about Rs2,058 crore, in the first-ever investment by a foreign airline in an Indian carrier.

Swamy in his PIL has sought "a direction to set aside and revoke any action or decision or grant of any further approvals/permissions/permits, etc by the respondent (govt) authorities, based upon, relying upon or in furtherance of the impugned bilateral dated April 24."

(Also see: Air India selling 5 Boeing 777s to Etihad amidst talk of privatisation )