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ONGC chopper choice raises eyebrows

New Delhi, Aug. 11: As ONGC reels under the impact of the helicopter crash, eyebrows are being raised over why the country’s richest corporate should hire helicopters from a lowly-rated company like Mesco.

A petroleum ministry official who visited Bombay High recently told The Telegraph that the “helicopter in which I travelled to the offshore field appeared to be in a bad shape even to the layman’s eye. I had even jokingly told ONGC officials that ‘surely, the company can afford to hire better choppers’”.

Sources said ONGC had earlier turned down an offer from Mesco to run helicopter sorties as questions were raised whether it has the financial muscle to operate such a service. However, Mesco appears to have bounced back after that, following which it started doing business with ONGC.

The helicopters are paid on an hourly basis which makes the ferrying of ONGC staff a highly lucrative business. ONGC has recorded a net profit of over Rs 10,000 crore in the last financial year and is expected show better results this year.

ONGC mainly uses helicopters from the state-owned Pawan Hans to carry its staff to the offshore fields, but it also hires choppers from Mesco.

Rita Singh, the owner of Mesco, has been embroiled in financial and legal trouble. She was sent to jail following charges of financial misdemeanours.

ONGC appears to have given a new lease of life to Mesco by hiring the choppers. ONGC employees work in 14-day shifts at various platforms in the offshore oilfields and, on a given day, as many as 100 to 150 people travel to and from these oilfields.

In some cases, the lowest-bid criterion by which the public sector units have to choose a contractor often leaves companies with a poorer choice.

Apart from the irreparable loss in terms of human lives, the mishap has also wiped out a huge pool of skilled employees trained well to undertake tricky offshore operations.

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