Expat group moves Delhi HC against steep airfares of India-UAE flights
New Delhi, August 30, 2022
An expatriate group has approached the Delhi High Court seeking regulation of the "exorbitant" ticket prices of flights operating between the Gulf countries and India.
The writ petition of Kerala Pravasi Association (KPA), a registered Society, filed through advocate Kuriakose Varghese, a managing partner at KMNP Law, pointed out that there are no yardsticks to fix the reasonableness of profit, thereby making the tariff fixation of tickets highly irrational and non-transparent.
The tariffs are often dictated by the airline which has the larger seat share, thereby resulting in abuse of dominant position, the plea said.
Indians constitute the major population of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Living in harsh and difficult conditions round the year, the expats look forward to visiting their homes and reuniting with their families during summer vacations and other festive times, after saving money for months or years, it said.
Unfortunately, in the recent past, this has become virtually impossible, especially for expats from Kerala due to the exorbitant and prohibitive fares charged by airlines, which operate in the sectors connecting the Gulf countries and India, the plea stated.
As per the data published by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India for the year 2020, approximately 89 lakh Indian citizens are living in countries of Gulf region, including United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
The petition said that unreasonable and exorbitant airfares impose restrictions on air travel as a mode of transportation and, thereby, infringe the constitutionally protected rights of Indian passengers to or from Gulf countries.
"While the airfares are normally market-driven and are not established or regulated by the Government, the ambiguity in the Rules confer unbridled powers on the airlines to establish fares which are exploitative. In this regard, it is submitted that the impugned Rule is also beyond the scope of the parent Act which prescribe that the Central Government may make Rules for economic regulation of civil aviation and air transport services, including the approval, disapproval, or revision on tariff of operators of air transport services," it read.
The petition sought directions to the Centre and others to recognise and follow the International Air service Agreements entered pursuant to the Convention of International Civil Aviation, 1944 to prohibit excessive and predatory tariffs for international flights.
Although Rule 135(4) of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 empowers DGCA to issue directions to an airline if it is satisfied that such airline has established excessive or predatory tariff under Rule 135(1) or has indulged in oligopolistic practice, the said provision is rendered otiose on account of the arbitrary and unbridled powers given under Rule 135(1) of the Rules to the airlines to establish tariff, the petition said further.
The plea also sought to declare the phrase "reasonable profit" and "generally prevailing tariff" of Rule 135(1) of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 is vague, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) are the other respondents.