ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday sought records from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in regards to the privatisation of three international airports.

Justice Aamer Farooq asked CAA authorities to produce records for the privatisation of New Islamabad International Airport, Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore and Jinnah International Airport Karachi by June 13.

The direction came after the CAA submitted a written reply and took the stance that they had brought “confidential documents” for the perusal of the court but submitting the same will be tantamount to making them public.

Justice Farooq said submitting the “relevant documents” is necessary as the court will decide the matter only after going through the documents and might quote relevant paragraphs in the final order.

IHC issues direction on a petition of employees challenging govt’s decision to privatise three airports

Previously, the court had issued notices to the secretary aviation, secretary aviation division, CAA director general, adviser to the prime minister on aviation and the chairman of the Privatisation Commission of Pakistan after the Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA) and some other employees of the CAA challenged the process.

Through their counsel Hafiz Arfat Ahmad, the petitioners approached the court after the CAA invited applications/proposals from international companies to privatise the three international airports on February 7.

The counsel said according to the advertisements, the companies wanting to participate in the process would be responsible for operation, management, development work and some other functions.

He said the company would control the airport operation and management, administration and maintenance of airport buildings, allied infrastructure, equipment, systems and other facilities, ground handling services and future expansions of airport infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, car parks etc.

Mr Ahmad said the unexpected news concerning privatisation of the major airports where a major part of the workforce of CAA was deployed had created a sense of insecurity among thousands of employees.

All of them were surprised as to why major components of a profit yielding organisation of the government were being privatised, he said, adding the CAA financial performance report 2015-16 reflected that it earned more than Rs50 billion during the period.

He argued that section 6 of the CAA Ordinance unambiguously stated that CAA shall have control over all the civil airports of the country.

He said when the legislative provisions itself contemplates that the control of civil airports is to remain with CAA, it could not have issued the impugned advertisement seeking applications/proposals from companies.

In connivance with other respondents, the CAA has decided to accommodate some influential group, he alleged, adding the decision to privatise the three airports had not been taken by the CAA management rather the management had been directed to initiate the process.

“The decision to ‘accommodate’ someone has been taken at some other level and without any justification, the CAA is blindly executing the unlawful direction,” he said.

Mr Ahmad argued that the sovereign rights on air can only be ensured when the administrative and operational control of the airports is retained by the state instrumentality and by entrusting the same to a private corporate entity will seriously jeopardize things.

He maintained that aviation was a highly sensitive activity which was directly linked to the safety and security of Pakistan.

Through the impugned advertisement, he said, the CAA had quite surprisingly decided to entrust its core function to a private entity.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2017