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CM to shun choppers

Calcutta, April 1: Mamata Banerjee has decided against using helicopters on her campaign trail, a day after she was forced to travel by car because of an apparent snag in the chopper supposed to take her to West Midnapore.

“I have to go (to Agartala) in a general flight. It will take two-and-a-half hours to reach (Shantir Bazar in Tripura) from Agartala. What can we do? The chopper rent is Rs 76 lakh. From where will we get so much money? Ours is a poor party,” the chief minister said at Calcutta airport before leaving for Agartala this afternoon.

Chopper companies charge Rs 2 lakh an hour on average and it is not clear how Mamata arrived at Rs 76 lakh. She reached the rally venue at Shantir Bazar, 85km from Agartala, by road.

Yesterday, the chief minister had got delayed by over two hours as she had to travel by road to reach West Midnapore after the private chopper company informed Trinamul leaders about the “snag”. Mamata had said she would find out if it was a genuine problem or a “conspiracy”.

Trinamul sources said Mamata’s refusal to use helicopters was an attempt to snuff out the possibility of the Opposition criticising her over the mode of transport. The Opposition could attack the chief minister for “wasting money” if she used a chopper for campaigning, common in other states, the sources said.

They said that while talking to her aides last evening, Mamata had “realised” that her party would have to spend a minimum of around Rs 8 lakh a day for hiring a helicopter for four hours.

“The Opposition parties are sure to make an issue out of it. So, she has decided not to use a chopper any more,” a source said.

Aviation industry sources said the demand for helicopters increased during elections.

“There is a huge demand for all our helicopters. Our Bell-407, which was in Bengal, has been rented out to another state for campaigning,” said a senior official of Prayag Aviation Services Private Limited.

At the rally in Shantir Bazar, Mamata gave a call to supporters to unseat the Left in Tripura in the next Assembly elections, in 2018.

“I have single-handedly ended 34 years of CPM misrule in Bengal. It is possible here too. Our MPs will raise issues related to Tripura in the House of the people,” the Bengal chief minister told the gathering of around 25,000.