The sale of state-owned planes gets flak from the BJP, Congress says delay is increasing losses
The Madhya Pradesh government’s air fleet has become the subject of a slanging match between the opposition and ruling party. While the ruling Congress alleges that the previous BJP government’s policies led to losses worth crores while operating the fleet, the opposition is attacking the cashstrapped government for wanting to buy a new aircraft.
The state’s aircraft inventory, till recently, included three helicopters—a Bell 407, Bell 430 and a Eurocopter155—and a Beechcraft King Air B200 plane.
In early July, the state government
finally managed to auction off the Bell 407 and Bell 430 choppers (after four failed attempts in 2016 and 2017). The Bell 407, purchased for Rs 9.82 crore in 2003, was auctioned for Rs 6 crore to a Punebased company. The Bell 430 had cost Rs 20.48 crore in 1998 and had completed its lifespan. It was sold with spares for Rs 2.66 crore to a Keralabased concern. The Bell 407 was already grounded after the ministry of home affairs banned the use of single engine choppers to fly VIPs.
Sources in the state government say the CM has stopped flying in the state plane after it developed a technical snag on a flight once and a replacement will soon be procured. The replacement, as proposed in 2016, is a turbojet aircraft. “The previous BJP government paid Rs 42.8 crore to private companies to rent aircraft even when it had its own fleet. This was at a time when the offset value of the plane and the amount spent on the charter could together have helped buy a new plane for the state,” says Congress MLA Rajvardhan Singh Dattigaon, adding, “a new aircraft will now cost about Rs 100 crore. Who is responsible for this loss?”
The issue also found mention in the Vidhan Sabha on July 24. “Insinuations are being made in certain quarters that the aircraft are being sold so that the government can lease aircraft from a company owned by my family,” said chief minister Kamal Nath in the House. “The company never rented aircraft to the government even when the BJP was in power. Also, the decision to sell was taken by the previous government.”
The CM’s clarification notwithstanding, the BJP is training its guns on the auction. “The aircraft were serviceable, they were auctioned on the basis of wrong reports. There should be an inquiry into whether there was corruption in the sale of the old aircraft or in buying the replacement,” says state BJP spokesperson Rahul Kothari. ■
ON THE TARMAC Chief minister Kamal Nath