In a state where sky is the limit for political ambition, politicians cannot be faulted if they seem to prefer the aerial route for campaigning even in times of economic downturn.
Choppers have emerged as the best friend of rally-hopping leaders out to cover as many places as possible on a single day during constituency tours for the Lok Sabha polls. Almost all parties are making a beeline for helicopters in the run-up to hectic electioneering even if that means coughing up a few lakhs per hour.
If national parties like the BJP and the Congress are banking on their high commands to provide copters, their regional rivals are making their own arrangements from private aviation firms.
“If I am not wrong, we got two private choppers from New Delhi on March 12. Both have arrived in Ranchi. One is being used by our party chief (Babulal Marandi) for his tours,” said JVM’s Sunil Bariyar, who is looking after the party’s helicopter needs.
On Thursday, JVM’s Khunti candidate Basant Longa had also flown to campaign in Tamar’s Doria village.
“Both the helicopters are 3+1 seaters and were primarily used for search and rescue operations (SAR) in the past. As far as I know, we got them from Pawan Hans Ltd,” revealed another party worker.
BJP’s state unit is expected to get two helicopters, exclusively for campaigning in Jharkhand, by Saturday or Sunday. According to Ravinath Kishore, who has been made the co-ordinator for helicopter travel, the party high command had sanctioned the two.
“We were informed yesterday (Thursday) that two choppers would be at our service, but we are awaiting details. Both the helicopters are around four to five-seaters with twin engines that can fly in any condition,” he said.
Congress leader Ajay Rai said they would also get two choppers from the high command on March 28. “These will be stationed here till the end of campaigning,” he said.
However, none was willing to share the charges of the choppers or the expenses that would be incurred in using them during election campaigning.
“Right from bookings to allotments, everything is being directly looked after our party leadership. So, I cannot furnish flying costs or the agency from where the choppers have been hired,” said BJP’s Kishore.
JVM’s Bariyar was also unwilling to reveal the rates.
JMM, on the other hand, is understood to have already made an advance payment of Rs 5 lakh to block the two copters — Dauphin and Ecureuil, belonging to Aryan Aviation Pvt Ltd — at the state hangar.
“Chief minister Hemant Soren used the Dauphin for travelling to Dumka yesterday (Thursday). But it developed a snag and was sent back. But the party has an Ecureuil on standby,” said a source.
State civil aviation secretary Sajal Chakraborty said private firms that provide helicopters charge money on the basis of flying hours. But in the season of polls, there are no fixed rates. A lot depended on negotiations and the kind of aircraft.
“The government’s rate is Rs 1.25 lakh/hour. But as the state doesn’t own any chopper, we don’t have a role to play,” said Chakraborty.
He added that as per election commission norms, a party can’t keep a government helicopter for three days at a stretch and the rates should be uniform for all.
“Also, if two parties seek a helicopter at the same time, a decision is taken through lottery,” he explained.