An existing helipad at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club
The army on Thursday allegedly used the threat of arrest to force the PWD and police to abandon the idea of creating a new concrete helipad on the Royal Calcutta Turf Club ground for the President’s fleet.
Work was about to begin on a slush-filled grassy patch on that part of the Maidan when a colonel arrived to tell the police and the PWD workers that they couldn’t proceed without permission from Fort William, the headquarters of the army’s Eastern Command and custodian of the city’s lungs.
The police later registered a general diary with Hastings police station, naming the colonel who had allegedly threatened arrest if they went ahead with the proposed helipad. The complaint mentioned that the helipad had been recommended by the air force as part of the arrangements for President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit starting this Saturday.
Military police are not authorised to arrest civilians, though they can detain someone and hand that person over to the police.
Lalbazar said the proposal to lay concrete over the slushy patch had been discussed with the army, but Fort William insisted that any such work on the Maidan was its responsibility.
“Some outsiders had come for the construction of the VVIP helipad. But it is the army’s area and engineering columns will be set up by Thursday night. We have the requisite expertise to do the work, something that cannot be done simply by laying bricks,” Group Captain T.K Singha, a spokesperson for the army, told Metro.
Singha said “local agencies” had turned up at the turf club on Thursday morning without prior intimation, bringing along a truckload of bricks. A police team had escorted the officials and workers to cordon off the area where the concrete helipad was to be built.
“As requisitioned by the police, some workers were sent to the spot with the required construction material. But work could not start as the colonel asked the workers to go back,” a senior PWD official said. “We removed the bricks from the spot later in the day.”
The colonel allegedly threatened a police officer of the rank of assistant commissioner with arrest if he and the rest did not leave the turf club “in 10 minutes”.
The assistant commissioner immediately reported the incident to the police headquarters, which sent an officer of the rank of deputy commissioner to intervene. The colonel allegedly refused to speak to “anyone below the rank of joint commissioner”.
Sources said joint commissioner (headquarters) Rajeev Mishra then communicated with the army officer.
“We are sorting out the matter to ensure that all security and other arrangements are in place before the VVIP entourage arrives,” Mishra said.
The presidential fleet comprises three helicopters: the President’s, one for his security personnel and a third for luggage.
Sources said the air force was “satisfied” with the condition of the spot where the helicopter carrying Pranab Mukherjee would land and take off from, but not the slushy patch designated for the other two choppers.
Sources in the home department said the army would be responsible for making the makeshift helipad fit for use. But a senior officer of Calcutta police cited the “security blue book” to bolster Lalbazar’s argument that government agencies were “primarily responsible” for security and other related issues during visits by VVIPs.
“It is categorically laid down in the blue book that the PWD will be responsible for the maintenance of the helipad, which, after construction, needs to be sanctioned by the air force. We were doing the right thing (on Thursday),” the officer said.
President Mukherjee is scheduled to be in Calcutta from September 14 till 16. Apart from engagements within the city, he has tours of some districts lined up.
An officer of the police’s intelligence branch said that if the army had any objection to the involvement of state agencies in security and other arrangements for the President’s visit, it could have raised it during the advance security liaisoning (ASL) drill that took place two days ago.
Representatives of the police, intelligence branch, PWD and the air force had attended the meeting but the army didn’t bother. When we requested the army to send a representative an hour past the start of the meeting, it sent two subedars. After an hour, two junior officers came,” he said.
Group Captain Singha countered the charge. “Such decisions are not taken during ASL,” he said.