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Aircraft wish fails to take off

Ranchi, May 21: The state civil aviation department’s dream of owning aircraft has been dashed for the time being with administrative hassles holding up release of sanctioned funds, which ultimately lapsed with the start of the new fiscal.

The state government, which does not have a copter of its own and is dependent on aviation companies for hired service, got a golden opportunity to procure choppers when the finance department allotted Rs 170 crore to civil aviation for the 2013-14 fiscal through a special supplementary budget tabled in the second week of February.

Of the total Rs 170 crore, roughly over Rs 80 crore was meant for purchasing choppers, while the rest was for airport modernisation and other works.

The civil aviation department, led by Sajal Chakraborty, who is now acting chief secretary, had time till March 31 this year to utilise the sum. The department also apparently swung into action to firm up a proposal to buy the aircraft.

The ambitious list included not one, but four choppers for various purposes ranging from VIP transport to emergency services. Even expressions of interest (EOIs) were floated and two special committees, comprising experts, constituted to oversee the entire exercise.

But the proposal got stuck in the finance department.

Eventually, two months passed and the entire Rs 170 crore lapsed with the start of the 2014-15 fiscal from April 1.

Speaking to The Telegraph at his office on Tuesday, Chakraborty rued that they lost a great opportunity.

“Yes, we were very hopeful of cracking the deal as we had done our groundwork well. However, we needed some clearances from the finance department, which we failed to get within March 31. The model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha elections also came into force, further slowing the process,” he said.

The civil aviation department had floated the EOI for purchasing four aircraft with different specifications.

Of the four, two, with varying seating capacities, were to be exclusively for ferrying VIPs. These included a turboprop aircraft with space for eight to 10 passengers, excluding two pilots, and one a five-seater (excluding two pilots) twin-engine turbo-shaft.

The third one was a twin-engine piston aircraft for training purposes and general duties while a single-engine helicopter, with 2+5/6 or 2+2 seating capacity, was also on the wish list for medical purposes.

“The purchases were to be done on type selection basis and not through the conventional method of floating tenders. But two months later, all our efforts were nullified as the funds lapsed,” Chakraborty said.

Under the type selection option, a model is first selected and the specifications given via EOI after which prospective companies approach the government, which makes the purchase directly.

However, the officiating chief secretary held out hope, adding that they would make another pitch for funds.

“Funds will be sought again. The state ought to have its own chopper and we will soon take the initiative to procure a few,” he added.

Finance secretary A.P. Singh could not be contacted for comments despite several attempts.

This is not the first time that the state’s plan to buy choppers got scuttled.

Earlier, after former chief minister Arjun Munda’s accident in May 2012, the government had decided to own air machines through global tenders. Advertisements were floated for procuring a twin-engine, six-seater (excluding two pilots) aircraft for Rs 50 crore.

But the proposal got grounded in June last year owing to funds crunch.

At present, the state is doing with a hired chopper.


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