Are the Airlines in India charging arbitrarily, irrationally and exorbitantly for air flights?

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Delhi advocate Amit Sahni had earlier filed an RTI application seeking information regarding airfares. Then, the Civil Aviation Ministry had responded while stating that the rates were not controlled by the government.

Amit Sahni then filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court urging the court to direct the authorities to frame “guidelines so as to put a cap on airfares and prevent the private airlines from charging arbitrarily, irrationally and exorbitantly for air flights.” His petition alleged that during the Jat agitation in Haryana last year, private airlines had charged huge amounts from passengers and sought that a cap be put on airfares to prevent such practice.

The Civil Aviation Ministry and the Aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), are the respondents. A notice was issued to the DGCA by the court seeking its version of the matter.

A bench headed by acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal is hearing the plea.

When summoned by the Delhi High Court, the DGCA while filing its affidavit in the court submitted its response as –

– the airlines do not charge their customers arbitrarily and exorbitantly at the time of agitations in any state of India;
– in emergency situations, transportation by road and by rail are affected and only air transportation is available due to which the demand for air travel increases manifold leading to rise in fares;
– it is denied that the charges are irrational or arbitrary as the same are governed by the market forces, availability and circumstances;
– the petitioner’s claim is refuted as the petition contains no proof in support of the allegation.

Advocate Amit Sahni has mentioned in his plea that private airlines companies have fleeced people even in emergent situations and the government has stood as a mute spectator, adding there was an urgent need to regulate the upper limit of airfares so that private airlines cannot fleece their customers as per their own wish.

Capping of airfares in the backdrop of passengers’ complaints of arbitrary tariff hikes was ruled out by the Ministry of Civil Aviation which had earlier said that competition among airlines would take care of the problem.

The ministry had said that restricting the airfares will not make good business sense as it could also jeopardise the government’s regional connectivity plan, as such a move may discourage airlines from flying on non-profitable routes.

In his plea the lawyer, Amit Sahni, has said “it is totally unfair on the part of respondents to state that they cannot regulate the airfare, thereby leaving the entire decision upon private companies to decide airfare as per their on wish.”

The court has fixed the matter for further consideration on September 15.

Had Amit Sahni not filed the said PIL, the situation would have remained as it is. The authorities (Ministry of Civil Aviation, DGCA) would have remained mere ‘mute spectators’ as mentioned in the PIL. The petitioner would like to present his case more strongly in the next hearing by bringing in more examples of ‘extortion’ by the airlines. He might get support from other quarters. One such instance in recent memory is the occasion of the annual Chhath festival in Bihar. All flights destined to and from Patna during that period see manifold increase in airfares. When queried, the DGCA ¬†would predictably say – market forces, you see ! But, justifying it legally in a court of Law will be a different matter altogether. This assumes more significance against backdrop of the vision of the PM Narendra Modi, “The airfares must be affordable for the common man.”