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SC, HC Had Dismissed PILs On Runway Safety Violations

The Karnataka High Court and Supreme Court had dismissed two PIL petitions that had meticulously brought out safety violations in the very location of the ill-fated tabletop airport in Mangalore, Times of India reports.  Environment
PTI May 26, 2010 9:35 IST
PTI
The Karnataka High Court and Supreme Court had dismissed two PIL petitions that had meticulously brought out safety violations in the very location of the ill-fated tabletop airport in Mangalore, Times of India reports.  

Environment Support Group (ESG), a local NGO, filed the first PIL way back in 1997 when the second runway abutting the gorge into which the plane fell was still in the planning stage.

 Rather than giving it the attention that could have saved the 158 lives that perished in the crash, the HC accepted the contention of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) that the petitioners were "merely meddlesome interlopers who have no interest in the promulgation of the project" and asserted that they were "not canvassing any public interest".  

In its 1998 verdict, a HC bench comprising Justices Y Bhaskar Rao and A M Farooq were content to go by the false assurances given by AAI claiming that "the fear of the petitioners that the runway is insufficient for any emergency landing of a plane is without any basis since before the project is to proceed, the authorities will be meeting the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)."  

Glossing over the PIL's central concern that the site gave little scope for compliance with ICAO regulations, HC asserted, "We are sure that the respondent will be taking all necessary measures ... before proceeding with the project in question."  

It added that PIL was "premature" as the petitioners had "rushed to this court before the commencement of the project itself."  

Since the subsequent construction failed to comply with the prescribed safety norms, ESG filed its second PIL in 2002. This too was promptly dismissed by HC, which said, "No doubt in an appropriate case, this court can issue directions, if there is gross violation of fundamental rights or if the issue touches the conscience of this court."

 Brushing aside the fears of the petitioners, HC certified rather gratuitously that the second runway was "in the interest of the public." When ESG appealed against this HC order in 2003, the apex court too bought into the safety claims made by authorities. In its five-line order, a bench held, "We see no reason to interfere with the impugned order."  

Though the very nature of the site ruled out the possibility of compliance with norms, SC washed its hands of the matter saying that the government should observe all the applicable rules.  

The dismissal of the petitions related to the Mangalore airport is part of the larger pattern of the PIL concept, which was devised by SC judges in 70s and 80s as an innovation that won accolades around the world, coming increasingly under attack, partly because of its misuse, from the 90s onwards.