Jaipur, July 1: Rajasthan High Court has appointed an amicus curiae to check out the viability of the helipad network the state proposes to build by diverting drought funds.
Advocate Ajay Rastogi has been asked to inspect the construction sites — 381 in all, including 54 around Jaipur district alone — and verify the state’s rationale that the project would provide jobs to the drought-hit, promote tourism, facilitate relief work during natural calamities and help maintain law and order.
The Ashok Gehlot government had announced the project proposal on June 12 but it ran into a hurdle two days later after reports were splashed in local newspapers. Justice S.K. Keshote had then taken cognisance of the reports as writ and questioned the rationale behind the decision.
Yesterday, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Anil Dev Singh and Justice K.S. Rathore directed Rastogi to inspect the 54 sites around Jaipur and report on the veracity of the state’s arguments. It also demanded an affidavit that the state would not announce construction of any more helipads.
According to the project proposal, a helipad will come up at every panchayat samiti headquarters and at panchayats of villages with a population above 500. A government spokesman was quoted as saying the estimated expenditure per helipad is Rs 60,000.
Justice Keshote had asked the state to show cause why the project was being started as “prima facie such expenditure from the drought relief funds does not appear to be more than providing a facility to one’s political leaders”.
He also observed that though the project would provide employment, “ there appears to be no present or future benefit of them for the villagers”.
Keshote said the state needed to spend money on permanent constructions like roads, wells, ponds or buildings. These would provide long-term benefits to the villagers and the state. He said the state should envisage projects that would provide the people two square meals a day.
Pleading for the government yesterday, advocate general Sagar Mal Mehta stressed four points: the project would provide jobs, promote tourism, facilitate relief distribution and help maintain law and order.
But he went back on the earlier estimate of funds needed per helipad, saying only Rs 18,000-20,000 would be required. Of this, Rs 12,000 would be used to pay labourers’ wages, meaning the effective cost of one helipad would be around Rs 4,000.
Mehta also assured the court the helipads would be sturdy remain operational for a long time, subject to repair.
The case will come up for hearing next on July 8.