A High Court in India has asked a representation from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to hear a writ petition challenging the exorbitant prices of air tickets on flights operating between Gulf countries and India.
The petition, filed by Delhi-based political group Kerala Pravasi Association, in Delhi High Court challenged Rule 135(1) of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, stating that it is vague, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
The petition to the Court noted that airlines have been charging unreasonable, excessive, and prohibitive airfares for travel 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 grave impediments,” read the petition.
“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,” it added.
“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 ineffectual on account of the arbitrary and unbridled powers given under Rule 135(1) of the Rules to the airlines to establish tariff.
The petitioners, Kerala Pravasi Association, seek urgent interim relief concerning tariffs established by the airline or the scrapping of Rule 135(1). According to senior members of the NRI association, this may be the first time a writ petition has been filed challenging rule 135(1). Kerala Pravasi Association is a political party registered with the Election Commission of India, and the group has chapters in various countries worldwide, including the UAE.
The petition on behalf of the NRI group was filed by senior Supreme Court advocate and managing partner at KNPM Law Kuriakose Varghese. 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.
Varghese said, “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.”
Varghese said the practice of charging airfares based on market rates makes it highly lucrative and discretionary.
Vellapalath 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.
“This is a matter of law being linked to economics. It is a very grey 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.
Moreover, several members of the Indian Parliament, community groups in the UAE, travel agencies, and other non-profit bodies have also raised this issue to no avail.
Vellapalath added, “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 travelling between the sectors. The government can place a minimum or maximum cap on the ticket prices.”
“The government capped prices on domestic flights during peak Covid-19. Why can’t the same be done for international airlines as well,” asked Vellapalath
According to 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.