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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Car rental services at airport: plea by call taxi firm rejected

In today's Hindu (14.12.2008) the following news item is published. Let us first see the item and then Dondu N. Raghavan shall comment.

Special Correspondent
CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has dismissed a petition filed by a call taxi services company seeking to call for records of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in issuing tender for granting licence to internationally branded car rental services at the airport here, and quashing the same. Fast Track (P) Ltd. said it was running call taxi services in eight centres in South India, including Chennai. It submitted that as far as the tender was concerned, in view of the terms and conditions imposed, relating to internationally branded car rental services, the company and other local taxi operators were excluded from participating.

A.Xavier Arulraj, counsel for the AAI, submitted that the terms and conditions stipulated in the tender relating to internationally branded car rental services at the airport were based on the commercial policy of the AAI and approved by the board of directors of the Authority. The eligibility criteria for different services had been laid down.

In her order, Justice K.Suguna said a plain reading of the relevant clause of the notice inviting tender made it clear there was no prohibition on any local taxi operators from participating in the tender process. The only condition was they should fulfil the conditions.

Now for Dondu Raghavan's stance:

The term "plain reading" referred to in the last para is a little intriguing. What is meant by plain reading? Does the Honorable justice mean "prima facie"? If that is so, I would say that is precisely what the case is about. From the above news item I gather that the call taxi firm wanted to see what led to the decision of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to limit the tendering to just "internationally branded car rental services". What does the term "internationally branded" qualify? Is it the car or the rental services? And by the way what is exactly meant by "internationally branded"? Definitely the records would have held clues as to the various definitions and if they did not contain them the same would have been sufficient reason, I believe, to reverse the Authority's order. Presumably the records would have been shown to the Honorable judge, though the above news item does not specifically say so. (I would like to clarify that I shall not question a court's judgment. Nor am I doing it. But I can question the AAI).

Then another point. Why should it be limited to only internationally branded car rental services? I would have thought some specifications as to the quality of the cars deployed, drivers employed (should be capable of communicating well with the passengers etc) would have been more important.

I am reminded of an instance some years ago, when the tender calling for minivans clearly mentioned Matadors. Apparently the clerk formulating the tender thought that all minivans are called Matadors whereas it was just one of the brands of commercial minivans. Had this tender calling been challenged by a firm offering "Dynaclippers" (another brand of minivan), and if the judge had ruled on the virtue of plain reading and just dismisses the case saying that there is no ban on the firm offering Dynaclippers as they can very well offer Matadors too, what then?

Will any lawyer friends enlighten me on the subject?

Dondu N. Raghavan

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