The Patna High Court recently dismissed a batch of 31 Public Interest Litigations seeking the establishment of airports in almost as many of the districts that exist in the State of Bihar. The Court observed that we cannot but say it shocks the judicial mind, especially considering the jurisdictional power to interfere in such policy matters.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice K. Vindod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad noted that "In our opinion, the writ petitions would not be maintainable, especially as a Public Interest Litigation, since it is a purely policy matter of the respective Governments to decide on the establishment of airports, the land to be acquired and so on and so forth; wherein financial viability also becomes a very important consideration."

Advocate Sumit Kumar Singh appeared for the Petitioners while Additional Solicitor General Dr. K.N. Singh appeared for the Respondents.

The Petitioners referred to an earlier order passed by the High Court where it was noted that there are only three out of 31 Airports/Civil Enclaves which are operational for civil flights; being the airports at Patna, Gaya and Darbhanga. It was submitted that there were no bids received from the airlines for the Airports/AirStrips other than Darbhanga, Gaya and Patna despite the inclusion of Raxaul, Muzaffarpur and Jogbani under UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik). The State Government is required to sponsor the routes and there was no such sponsorship made under two phases of UDAN 4.0 and 4.1.

Advocate General who appeared on behalf of the State submitted before Court that the State Government is focusing its efforts to develop airports at Patna, Bihta, Gaya, Darbhanga and Purnea. The Patna International Airport (J.P.N.I.A) serves 10 districts, that at Gaya, 9 districts, that at Darbhanga, 11 districts and that proposed at Purnea, 9 districts. It was also contended that the coverage would include all the districts of Bihar and the distance from each of such airports to the various places would be less than 100 kilometres.

The Court observed that as per the earlier order of the Division Bench, the PILs were entertained only on the limited stand of the State Government that there was a proposal to have an airport at Purnea to cater to the need of nine major districts of the State of Bihar and that it was specifically noticed that whether a particular place should have an airport or not is a matter exclusively within the domain of the Executive and there is no cause for interference by the High Court.

It was also observed that there are a number of non-functional Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar wherein there has occurred unauthorized encroachments by the local inhabitants. Such lands were also not properly maintained and remained uncared for.

The Chief Justice Bench also referred to the affidavit filed by the Airport Authority of India wherein it was specifically stated that the AAI had asked for 50 acres of land on the northern side of the runway at Purnea whereas 52.18 acres of land have been acquired on the southern side of the runway; which is not in accordance with the profile forwarded and other such issues.

Taking note of this the Chief Justice observed "Obviously, there are issues to be sorted out between the State Government and the Central Government as also the AAI. It would not be proper for this Court to interfere with such policy decisions and it would suffice to direct the Governments as of now to ensure the proper maintenance of the lands; which are either in the ownership and possession of the AAI or the State Government."

It was further directed that "The direction in the order dated 27.03.2023 regarding the encroachments to be removed by the District Magistrates is made absolute. In the context of any encroachment of the lands dedicated for the establishment of the airport; in future it shall be kept free of encroachments and the respective owners shall be mindful of the proper upkeep of such lands."

Accordingly, the High Court disposed of the Petitions by stating that no practical purpose would be served in keeping the writ petitions pending. "We cannot be monitoring or supervising the discussions between the Government in so far as the establishment of airports; which is beyond the judicial ken" concluded the Court.

Cause Title: Nikhil Singh v. Union of India & Ors. [CWJC No.1784 of 2023]

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