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Take-off hope for grounded Dhruv during polls

Ranchi, Oct. 27: After about a year, Jharkhand’s lone armoured chopper, Dhruv, is likely to take to the skies during the state Assembly elections in November-December.

After conducting interviews last week, the state home department has finalised names of three among six pilots who had applied.

“We have shortlisted three pilots, who will be finally recruited for flying Dhruv. They were previously working with different organisations. We are checking their credentials and documents and hope that the chopper will be utilised in the forthcoming elections,” home secretary J.B. Tubid told The Telegraph.

Jharkhand was recently provided with two more Dhruvs by the Union ministry of home affairs but these choppers belong to the Border Security Force.

The Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL)-made Dhruv has been grounded since December 2008 after an inquiry was ordered by the director-general of civil aviation (DGCA) into alleged violation of security norms by two pilots that caused an accident during the flash floods in Jamshedpur last July. Subsequently, services of the two pilots — chief pilot Ajay Kumar Shrivastava and senior pilot Animesh Mukherjee — were terminated.

Bought in 2007 by spending Rs 45 crore from police modernisation fund, Dhruv was meant for use during ant-Maoist operations. However, the chopper has been mired in many a controversy.

It ended up being used frequently by politicians — including former ministers and chief ministers — and their relatives rather than for relief and rescue operations during anti-Maoist operations.

Based on a PIL filed by Bindu Bhushan Dubey alleging that majority of the 138 trips made by Dhruv between August 2007 and March 2008 were unauthorised, the Jharkhand High Court is hearing a case on the widespread misuse of the chopper.

But Tubid made it clear to The Telegraph that from now on, the armoured chopper would be available exclusively for police operations.

Civil aviation department sources pointed out that the state coughed up Rs 9 lakh to HAL every month as maintenance charges, a waste since the chopper has been grounded for the last year.

State home department officials, however, are in a fix about how to issue appointment letters to the shortlisted pilots as the model code of conduct has come into effect with the announcement of Assembly polls. The officials said they were in the process of getting an OK from the Election Commission.

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