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To market, to market, to buy four choppers

Ranchi, Feb. 23: Jharkhand is on a shopping spree this fiscal. And the top items on its list are aircraft.

Not one, the ambitious state is eyeing a flying squad of four — for purposes ranging from VIP transport to emergency services — by March 31. Following a couple of failed attempts in the past to buy a single air machine, the civil aviation department on Sunday floated expressions of interest (EOIs) announcing its mega procurement plans.

Last week’s supplementary budget, worth Rs 1,448.61 crore, has stuffed civil aviation coffers with Rs 170 crore. Their department purse bulging, aviation bosses want to speed up the process before things get stuck within bindings of the model code of conduct for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

According to the EOI, four aircraft variants are needed for three different objectives. Two of different seating capacities will exclusively be reserved for ferrying VIPs.

“We are looking for one turboprop aircraft that can seat eight to 10 passengers, excluding two pilots. Another should be a five-seater (excluding two pilots), twin-engine turbo-shaft,” said an official.

The third variant required is a twin-engine piston aircraft for training purposes and general duties.

But, what will be a major boost for a crisis-prone state is purchase of an air ambulance, the fourth on the shopping list.

“We are looking for a single-engine helicopter, with 2+5/6 or 2+2 seating capacity, for charter operations to ferry patients in and outside the state. When not on medical duty, it may be used for government duties such as transport of officials and security surveillance among others,” the official added.

State civil aviation secretary Sajal Chakraborty confirmed the developments, stating that his department was racing against time but was hopeful of cracking the deal.

“It is high time that Jharkhand has its own aircraft. Groundwork has been done and, if there are no external hindrances, we will fulfil this project,” Chakraborty said, adding that within 15 days two special committees comprising experts from different states was expected to meet in New Delhi on the matter. The file is, currently, awaiting a nod from Hemant Soren. Insiders hinted that the chief minister’s response would be positive.

A source in the aviation department revealed the break-up of the Rs 170-crore expenditure plan.

“Around Rs 50.68 crore is for helicopters (VIPs), Rs 26 crore for single-engine machine for emergency services, Rs 5-6 crore for training aircraft and allied purposes and Rs 32 crore for laying of fresh airbases. The remaining funds are for remodelling the state hangar at Birsa Munda Airport and creation of separate aprons among other things,” the source said.

Two years ago, after former chief minister Arjun Munda’s chopper crashed in Ranchi, the state had proposed purchase of an aircraft. Around Rs 1 crore was sanctioned, but the committee set up to look into the project failed to show interest and the funds had to be surrendered within a year.

The source said that this time the committees had been formed after studying other states.

“Two panels have been floated. The type-selection committee has four sub-committees for the four aircraft. Their job is to identify the best variant. The type-selection committee will be chaired by the aviation secretary; it will have the aviation director as its member secretary and other representatives such as chief pilot, chief engineers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand,” he said.

The selected product will go to the second committee on finance, which will be under the state chief secretary and secretaries of aviation, finance, home and development.