State copter out of action, pilots idle - On 9-month upkeep break

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By AMIT GUPTA
  • Published 22.10.11
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Ranchi, Oct. 21: The state chopper, meant for police use, has been grounded for over nine months now with the Jharkhand government spending over Rs 5 lakh per month on two pilots who have nothing to do other than push files at the aviation department.

Bought with police modernisation funds in 2007-08 by spending Rs 35 crore, the Dhruv was sent to its licensed manufacturer, Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, in January for inspection and maintenance mandated by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) after every 500 hours of flying.

“Major inspection and maintenance work take almost six months’ time. But things are getting delayed. We have been told that the Dhruv might reach the state by the first week of November,” said IG (operations and intelligence) S.N. Pradhan.

After Wednesday’s crash of a BSF chopper, also an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), a standby has arrived from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, for the use of the CRPF in anti-Maoist operations.

But Jharkhand has been left without a state chopper since the beginning of the year even though two pilots and a seven-member maintenance crew is ready and able.

While chief pilot S.P. Verma was appointed on contract in March 2010 on an honorarium of Rs 2.75 lakh per month, pilot Ravi Kumar Mourya was appointed in April 2010 for Rs 2.50 lakh per month.

Besides, two maintenance engineers and five technicians were appointed in August. Maintenance engineers Ujjwal Kumar Mandal and Ajmer Singh have been hired on a monthly salary of Rs 1.25 lakh each.

Among the technicians, four — Balchand Singh, Ashit Chattopadhyaya, Navin Kumar Laguri and another person — will get Rs 40,000 each per month. The fifth technician, Swati Kumari, will get Rs 30,000 per month.

While the two maintenance engineers have joined, only three technicians have reported for work so far. They are Swati Kumari, Ashit Chattopadhyaya and Navin Chandra Laguri.

“All the pilots are sitting idle for more than nine months, while maintenance staff appointed recently are also without work. But we are paying monthly salaries to all of them,” said a senior official of the state home department, requesting anonymity.

The pilots and the maintenance staff, therefore, spend the day at the office of the aviation wing of the state home department at Birsa Munda airport helping out with the odd paperwork.

“While the newly appointed technicians and maintenance staff are preparing sundry documents for the DGCA, pilots also pitch in with some office work,” said the official.

The maintenance and technical staff were appointed by a committee headed by Pradhan. The committee also included chief pilot Verma and HAL chief manager (customer support and helicopter vigilance wing) A.K. Naskar.

“The pilots were appointed when the Dhruv was flying, and we were compelled to appoint maintenance engineers and technicians as HAL expressed its inability to continue with maintenance work on the pretext of being ‘overburdened’ with defence ministry jobs,” Pradhan told The Telegraph.

In its early days. Dhruv was being maintained by HAL at a cost of Rs 12 lakh per month. The chopper has had a chequered existence in Jharkhand. During the tenure of former chief ministers Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren, it was reduced to a VIP carrier, ferrying politicians, their friends and relatives in the name of official functions.

So much the police hardly got to use it. This blatant misuse was carried out throughout Koda’s tenure. Ultimately, based on a PIL, Jharkhand High Court asked the state government to probe the allegations that Dhruv had undertaken 138 “unofficial flights” between August 2007 and March 2008.

Matters improved after two Dhruv choppers, belonging to the BSF but operated by Pawan Hans, were given to the state for exclusive use of the CRPF and police for anti-Maoist operations in 2009-10.