1. Cochin Air Port is always vibrant with activity. Understandably so. Cochin is the commercial capital of the State. From most places on the north and some on the south in the State, air passengers bound to foreign destinations board the air-craft from this Air Port: many to the Gulf countries and some even to countries like West Germany, United States, and Canada. Those who reach the air port with rosy expectations of a birght future themselves add up to a large number. Indian sentiments are as such that large number of friends, not to say of those near and dear in the family circles, throng the air port to have a parting vision and a last wave to those leaving for distant countries. Equally enthusiastic, and more cheerful, are those who gather to receive those who return, bag and baggage, after their years of patient work and the fruits of their labour. The resultant position is that the space, reserved for departure and for arrival, always appears to be congested. Similar is the problem as regards the vehicles which carry those who come to the air port on diverse missions.
2. The air port does suffer from constraints of space. The air port, is really a small portion of the Cochin Port area 'Cochin Port' acclaimed as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Like many other Queens these days, she does not have even necessary facilities, let alone pomp or splendour of bygone days. The physical situation and limitation of area is such that it cannot aspire to grow to the size of the New Changi Air Port of Singapore with its 870 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea.
3. The suffocating dearth of space is in a way indicated in the counter-affidavit filed on behalf of the Director General, Civil Aviation Department. It is stated therein that the Civil Aviation Enclave, Cochin, is only a Naval Air Station belonging to the Defence Department and that 'the Civil Aviation Department has been permitted to use the land and the facilities and also to make necessary constructions for the use of the Civil Aviation Enclave.'
4. The writ petition espouses the cause of taxi drivers, who, claimed a right to reach the air port with incoming passengers, and to pick up those who seek their services on the travel trips to different places in the State.
5. An attempt was made at getting at the crux of the grievance made by the petitioners in this case. The grievance appears to be about what has been characterised as a virtual monopoly to some, for the use of the parking space ear-marked for taxi cars. Whether a reservation of an area to a group of persons would be justified under law would be the main matter requiring consideration in the writ petition. In that view of the matter, it is unnecessary (and unproductive of results) to examine contentions about the complaints about the contractor entrusted with the parking of cars under Ext. P2 agreement entered into by the Civil Aviation Department on the basis of Ext. Pi particulars. Equally unnecessary is the investigation into the complaints made against some of the taxi owners or their representatives, who, it is alleged, virtually drag out willing passengers even from the cars of the petitioners and similarly situate persons, in spite of the willingness of the passengers to travel in such taxi cars. Ext, P4 is one such complaint referred to by the petitioners. In a counter-affidavit filed on behalf of the police officials, respondents 3 and 4, it is denied that there is any law and order situation necessitating police intervention. It is claimed by them that the police officials have a close watch with a view to checkmate untoward incidents. So far so good. The main problem, however, is even beyond the competence of the police authorities for attempting a solution.
6. It is evident from the pleadings in the case that about 77 persons, who have been issued separate passes on payment of a monthly fee, have a virtual reservation of the parking area which could be allocated for taxi cars. That is the optimum that could be accommodated in the available space, according to the authorities. In such a situation, taxi cars such as those of the petitioners herein, who pay a fee of Re. 1/- for getting admittance to the aerodrome, cannot be accommodated inside the car parking area of the aerodrome.
7. The action of the authorities in this behalf is sought to be justified with reference to Rule 78C of the Indian Air Craft Rules, 1937, framed under the Aircraft Act, 1934. A larger contention is also urged, by claiming that the Civil Aviation Enclave is not a public place where members of the public could have access or right of entry except with the permission of the Director General of the Civil Aviation Department and the aerodrome officer. It isclaimed that the 'members of the public have no right of access to the area comprised in the Civil Aviation Enclave, Cochin, including the Air Port and the parking place and the access to the said area is only permissive.'
8. These contentions do not bear scrutiny. It may be that the aerodrome is really only a Naval Air Station belonging to the Defence Department. If the Air Station is exclusively used for the Defence Department, the civilians may have necessarily to be excluded in the larger interest of the defence of the realm. However, such exclusive user could not be claimed, the moment any portion thereof is used as a civil aerodrome. That is essentially intended to meet the requirements of the public. The public cannot be excluded, by any authority, from having access to such a place, except under, sustainable regulatory provisions. A larger contention that the Director of Civil Aviation or the Aerodrome Officer, could have uncontrolled power in relation to the use' of that area by the public cannot be accepted. Regulatory powers may be within their permitted competence. Such regulations, however, should be fair. They should be clear. They should be reasonable. Any regulation which is not fair, reasonable or rational would run the risk of being invalidated by a court of law.
9. The rule relied on is also of not any substantial aid to respondents 1 and 2. Rule 78C permits levying of a parking fee. A power to refuse admission to any vehicle or to expel a vehicle already inside the area is given under Sub-rule (2), but subject to rigorous conditions. The power has to be exercised by the Director General or the Officer-in-charge of the aerodrome or any other person specified by the Director General. The specification can be done by general or special order. The more important condition is that there must be a satisfaction that such refusal of admission, or of expulsion, is necessary or expedient for the maintenance of proper order or discipline. That is an objective test. In the absence of any supporting material indicative of the existence of such conditions, exclusion of any vehicle or a type of vehicles would not be permissible under the aforesaid rule. It is not contended that there has been any conduct on the part of the petitioners which would disrupt the maintenance of proper order or discipline.
10. The further submission is about the limitation of space and a reservation made tothose who had been already using the airport for a fairly long time. The mere fact that some of the taxi cars have been virtually based on the aerodrome, and have been given passes levying a monthly fee, will not justify a perpetuation of monopoly in favour of such persons. The limitation of space, no doubt, was, and continues to be, a serious problem. A distribution of the available space would bring within its wake diverse administrative problems. Those problems have, however, to be solved on reasonable and rational considerations. No ad hoc solution, or solution of convenience, could be adopted in such cases. The fact that 77 people have been able to obtain monthly passes earlier would not be a rational ground to confer in their favour a virtual monopoly of occupying the sparse aerodrome space. It may quite often happen that many of them may be away at a particular tune on a useful and gainful trip to a far off place. What is to be done in such a situation, even with the space available, and with other taxi cars waiting for admittance thereto? Should there be a virtual leasing or assignment of an area to a taxi car who happens to be an earlier entrant? The answer appears to be prima facie in the negative. It is not necessary in this writ petition to express any definite views on these diverse aspects, in the light of the ultimate direction which is proposed to be given herein. The competing interests of the taxi operators, the group of 77 and the rest, have to be duly considered by respondents 1 and 2. In attempting a satisfactory solution, no doubt, the strong views of the rival factions, may be useful. Opinions may be elicited from the police authorities, who have ultimately to deal with the law and order problem. The views of other responsible and representative bodies, such as those representing important institutions around, and the commercial and trade interests and their organisations, could also be solicited. I direct that appropriate regulations or rules relating to the use of the parking space for the taxi cars shall be made in the manner indicated above by respondents 1 and 2. Such rules, having regard to the situation that has already developed, have to be framed without any delay. Quite often, a time limit is not fixed for such action. However, the experience in many such cases where no time limit is fixed for a governmental action, appears to be unsatisfactory. Virtual inaction for long and indefinite periods would appear to be the unsatisfactory net outcome in suchcases. In that view of the matter, I feel that in the interests of all concerned, it is desirable to have a. time limit for the framing of and due promulgation of such rules. Ordinarily a period of four months would be sufficient for carrying out this direction. Taking into consideration all possible administrative difficulties, I would, however, fix the outer limit of time within which rules have to be framed and notified in this behalf, as six months from today. The above direction, may satisfy the various prayers contained in the writ petition, including the one which seeks restraining the respondent in preventing the parking of the cars of the petitioners herein in the aerodrome-taxi car area.
11. The writ petition is allowed in manner indicated above. There will be no order as to costs.