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Hesitant babus checkmate Czech planes Single-engine Zlins find no takers as bureaucrats prefer road, rail travel

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  • Published 22.04.13

Maoists and maimed roads bother them less than winged machines owned by the state.

Jharkhand’s top-notch bureaucrats decline flight comfort between districts and instead prefer five-hour road trips or AC three-tier discomfort through red bastions even at night, leaving three prized aircraft procured more than half a decade ago with no takers.

In August 2007, the state had imported the four-seater Zlin 143Ls from Moravan Aviation, a manufacturer based in the Czech Republic, for Rs 3.78 crore. The objective was to train aspiring pilots and ferry officials. The target was never achieved, first owing to trainer crunch, then due to unavailability of pilots and, finally, due to lack of maintenance.

Bright red and trendy to the hilt, the aircraft also remained in media glare after the CAG dubbed it “mindless” purchase. For four years, the planes idled in the state hangar.

In 2011, chief flying instructor Surinder Sinha mooted a proposal before then deputy chief minister Hemant Soren to allow IAS officers to use the planes for transit during meetings in the districts, a practice common in mother state Bihar.

The proposal was forwarded to then chief minister Arjun Munda who gave his nod and, at the same time, directed the civil aviation department not to charge the bureaucrats because travel costs would be borne by their respective departments.

The order was “widely circulated” among principal secretaries and secretaries. But, no officer has till date managed to gather courage to take wings. Ask them to fly to a far-flung district, they would straightaway spurn the proposal or more easily call off meetings.

Additional chief secretary Sudhir Prasad, who also heads the drinking water and sanitation department, claimed he was unaware of the order. “It was perhaps not widely publicised. If we have permission to fly, I will definitely like to fly,” he added.

Sukhdeo Singh, principal secretary (finance), echoed Prasad, but admitted that some bureaucrats had inhibitions regarding single-engine aircraft. “There may be two reasons for the Zlins not finding takers. One, bureaucrats are perhaps unaware of the provision. Two, many believe double-engine planes are safer,” he said.

Principal secretary (social welfare) Mridula Sinha was expected to break the jinx by travelling to Dumka last month. But, she too called off her trip in the eleventh hour. “Yes, I was supposed to fly, but I got tied up with some other urgent work. I may travel next month,” she said.

Confirming that no babu had taken a Zlin ride till date, civil aviation secretary Sajal Chakraborty said it was unfortunate because the flights could have saved time and increased efficiency of the bureaucratic machinery.

“One can reach Jamshedpur in 20 minutes, Dhanbad in 30 minutes, Palamau in 40 minutes and Dumka and Sahebganj, which are farthest, within an hour and a quarter. I do not understand why they hesitate. Maybe, they think a single-engine aircraft is not safe enough. But, a Zlin is powered by a six-cylinder engine and it is an excellent training aircraft,” Chakraborty, himself a frequent flier, hoped to revive faith in air travel.

If you were a babu, would you have taken off on a Zlin?