Recently, the Jammu & Kashmir High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking "issuance of directions to the respondents to subsidize airfare, especially for the local tribal population and to contain the illegal fare practice of unreasonably raising the cost of the tickets. The petitioner also prayed for a direction to the respondents to bring uniformity in the price of the air tickets by the airlines."
The plea was filed by two residents of Jammu contending that the airlines were indulging in an unfair practice by compelling the passengers to pay exorbitantly increased air ticket fares for air services which are absolutely illogical, irrational, and illegal as a result of arbitrary exercise of authority. "The pricing of airline tickets by private airlines is arbitrary; that airlines use differentiated pricings whereby the price discrimination is effected, and air services are sold at varying prices simultaneously to different segments, to the prejudice of the consumers”, the petition reads. The petition also referred to the newspaper reports highlighting opinions of Parliamentary panels, the Corporate Affairs Ministry, and other persons.
A division bench comprising of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal observed that “it is trite that judicial review is not concerned with matters of economic policy or price fixation”. The bench further said, "It is not open to a writ court to supplant its views with those taken by the private bodies over which, as herein, the private airlines whose actions are being challenged."
While referring to a Supreme Court Judgment in the case of Union of India v. Cyanamide India Ltd. and Anr. the bench held that "It is well settled that price fixation is not the function of the court and only a limited examination as to whether the authority fixing the prices had considered the relevant factors, can be conducted."
The Counsel appearing for the petitioners failed to establish the violation of any statutory provisions or any binding circular by the Government or by the Director-General of Civil Aviation. In response, Private Airlines also rendered individual explanations justifying the pricing of air tickets. The Court also took note of sub-rule (1) of Rule 135 of Aircraft Rules, 1937.
It was observed that the prices of the air tickets depend upon the date of travel, how much in advance, the air ticket is booked, and the number of seats available on a flight. Consequently, the court referred to the various factors for Fixation of the airfare such as:
1. Fuel cost which is subject to variation;
2. Present market conditions;
3. Cost of operation and maintenance;
4. Seasonal pattern and demand;
5. Govt. taxes and levies;
6. Commercial viability examined keeping in mind the aforesaid factors thereby, accounting for some margins for reasonable profits for the sustenance of the Airlines, etc.
Lastly, the court while making observations noted that the PIL does not specify any particular allegations and that the writ petitions majorly rely only upon the newspaper reports thus making vague and general submissions.
Nonetheless, the court also said that even if the writ petition is maintainable, they have no expertise or jurisdiction to undertake the exercise of price fixation. Thereby, the court dismissed the present writ petitions considering it completely misconceived and vague.