The Pawan Hans helicopter that landed at Balurghat on Wednesday. Picture by Mithun Roy
Jan. 1: Asit Banerjee is happy that he doesn’t have to travel all through the night by a train to reach Balurghat from Calcutta and just a 90-minute helicopter ride will take him to his hometown.
The much-awaited chopper service between Calcutta and Balurghat was launched today. The flight took off from Behala Flying Club in Calcutta at 10.50am and reached Malda airport at 12.25pm. The helicopter took off from Malda at 1pm and landed at the airstrip in Mahinagar, Balurghat, 30 minutes later.
The Pawan Hans helicopter has seven seats for passengers. The trip to Malda from Calcutta costs Rs 1,300 for a person, while one has to shell out Rs 200 more to reach Balurghat.
The return flight doesn’t have a stop at Malda.
The service would be available every Wednesday.
Today, six passengers disembarked at Malda and one at Balurghat. The only passenger to get off at Balurghat, S. Das, was welcomed with a bouquet by officials.
Banerjee, the 65-year-old doctor, and his wife took the flight back to Calcutta from Balurghat.
He had reached Balurghat from Calcutta this morning by the Gaur Express.
“I came to Balurghat this morning only to celebrate the New Year’s Day with a different experiment. I and my wife reached here (Balurghat) around 10am and went straight to the air strip. I am happy that I am among a few persons who are fortunate to board the chopper on its very first day of the service,” said Banerjee.
Banerjee, a native of Balurghat, had served in a government hospital in Calcutta where he is settled at present. He had tried for tickets from Calcutta, but all seats had already been booked. “That is why I came here by train and will return to Calcutta by flight. Since its the first day of the service, I wanted to board the chopper.”
“The launch of the chopper ride is a great move as far as transportation is concerned. Earlier, we had flight services from Balurghat and the town was added to the rail map of India only a few years back. Mamata Banerjee, as the railway minister, had seen to it that South Dinajpur was connected by rail. Once again, she should be thanked for introducing the helicopter service,” said the doctor.
“My native place is Balurghat and as the communication has been a big problem, we couldn’t come to our hometown often. Now that the helicopter ride has been launched, I can reach here easily,” he added.
State public works department minister and Balurghat MLA Sankar Chakrabarty and South Dinajpur district magistrate and the superintendent of police were at the airstrip to welcome S. Das.
“It was always my dream to fly by a helicopter. Today was my first chopper ride and this New Year’s Day will be really a memorable one in my life. Thanks to God that I have been among the lucky few to board the first flight,” said Das, a resident of Balurghat.
District officials said tickets would be available on the website of the state transport department.
Five persons took the return flight to Calcutta.
In Malda airport, state ministers Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury and Sabitri Mitra were present to welcome the Balurghat-bound chopper, pilot and co-pilot.
Malda district officials said the seats would be available for Malda and Balurghat on a first-come-first-serve basis.
“Whether for Calcutta, Malda or Balurghat, tickets will be issued on a first-come-first-serve basis. For Malda, the booking would be handled by a travel agency that has its office at Rabindra Avenue of the town. Tickets can be bought online also,” said a Malda district official.
Narendranath Chakraborty, a resident of Calcutta and a former manager of the State Bank of India, was among the passengers who flew to Malda.
“Several years ago, flights used to operate from Malda. However, the service was discontinued later. It is good that the chopper service has been introduced as it would largely help people during emergencies,” said Chakraborty.
Minister Choudhury said: “Our chief minister has kept her word by introducing chopper services from Calcutta. We are confident that the service will gain popularity in due course and then, we can ask for an increase in the frequency of the service.”