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The Supreme Court Monday stayed a Patna High Court order upholding the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security’s (BCAS) decision to withdraw security clearance licence granted to an agency run by retired armymen engaged in ground handling operations at Patna and other airports.

The BCAS’ withdrawal of security clearance, valid for a five-year period, to the Ex-Armymen’s Protection Services Pvt. Ltd had paralyzed all its ground handling operations.

However, the BCAS’ order was stayed by a single judge bench of the Patna High Court which in turn was set aside by the final verdict of the apex court division bench.

The security clearance had been withdrawn on the grounds of “safeguarding civil aviation operations and national interest”. However, the company was not informed of the reasons. The Patna High court was given the grounds only in a sealed cover.

The petitioner company invited the withdrawal of security clearance because its managing director Sunil Kumar Sinha had “good relations with political leaders and had a bodyguard”, the BCAS said in its reason. At one point the apex court bench wanted to know if the owner of the company was a “hardened criminal”.

The apex court vacation bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice C.K. Prasad stayed the high court verdict and issued the notice after senior counsel Nagendra Rai, appearing for the petitioner, told the court that the withdrawal of security clearance was “illegal and unlawful”. Rai said his client was given a fait accompli without being given prior notice.

The Ex-Armymen’s Protection Services Pvt. Ltd was granted security clearance for five years on April 17, 2007. The company entered into a contract with several airlines for handling their ground operations. In the course of time, the company had 300 people on its staff.

However, after a year and a half on Nov 27, 2008, the BCAS withdrew the security clearance.

The single judge of the high court in its Feb 9, 2009, interim order stayed the withdrawal of security clearance and allowed the company to pursue its operations.

On March 25, 2009, the high court directed the aviation authorities to give the company an opportunity to present its case. However, after the hearing the matter, the aviation authority upheld the decision to withdraw the licence.

Thereafter, the single judge held that the ground on which the licence was withdrawn was a mere apology and all the concerns for security was a façade. The central government appealed against this.

The division bench of the high court allowed the appeal by the centre and set aside the

single judge order which had set aside the withdrawal of security clearance by the BCAS

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