Are airlines and railways justified in placing conditions on concessional tickets for senior citizens? Sonavi Kher Desai cites a case study
In India, some airlines have been offering tickets to senior citizens at concessional rates. In 2004, a senior citizen petitioned the Rajasthan High Court complaining that the following conditions were attached to the concessions offered, which nullified the concessions: The senior citizen (i) had to apply 7 days in advance of the journey; and (ii) was required to stay a minimum of two days at the outgoing destination to be eligible for the concessional return ticket.
The matter was taken up as a PIL by a Division Bench of the High Court and notice was issued to the said airline and also to Indian Railways which offers concession to senior citizens, and the Government, although no relief had been claimed against the latter two. The Division Bench found that the conditions imposed were unreasonable and directed the airlines not to insist on the two conditions. The Bench opined that the conditions placed by the railways with regard to the purchase of concessional tickets at the railway station alone and restrictions on a change of the class of ticket or extension of journey etc. were unjustified.
The Government filed an appeal against this order in the Supreme Court. Their lawyers argued that the judgement of the High Court proceeded on a completely fallacious basis as the concession was offered with certain conditions and it was not for the court to interfere and decide what was more appropriate with regard to these matters. They pointed out that policy matters were matters of administrative law and could not be a cause for interference by the court unless they could be said to be totally arbitrary or violative of some statute or law and as the concessions given were on the basis of the guidelines issued by the airlines, there was absolutely no justification for the court’s to interfere in the matter.
The lawyers for the senior citizen argued that it was unfair that a concession granted with one hand was being taken away by the other and that it was a duty of all citizens of this country to ensure a comfortable and happy life to its senior citizens. Hence, they said, there was no error in the order of the High Court.
After hearing the arguments, the Supreme Court opined that a concession granted by a carrier is a concession only, and no person is entitled to insist that the concession should be with conditions determined by that person. Once it is held that no beneficiary of a concession has a right to insist on a particular condition or conditions, the very basis for the judgement of the High Court disappears. “It appears that the court proceeded only on the basis of its subjective satisfaction to arrive at the conclusion that the conditions were not to the benefit of senior citizens ignoring the basis nature of a concession given on the basis of administrative policy and ignoring the effect that they could have on the concessionaires.”
Relying on earlier judgement, the Supreme Court held that it is not for the Court to interfere in matter of policy as that is a decision for the administrators on an examination of the various facets before them and the inputs they receive from various sources.
The Court allowed the appeal and concluded: “The very basis of this judgement is that a decision to grant a certain concession or a certain benefit and the conditions for their grant are a matter for the administrators alone and the court should not interfere in the matter on the premise that it was of the opinion that some of the conditions imposed were not justified. A concession based on an administrative decision de hors a statute as in this case stands on a yet weaker footing.”