Tur­bu­lence Ahead

The sale of state-owned planes gets flak from the BJP, Congress says de­lay is in­creas­ing losses

India Today - - STATES - By Rahul Noronha

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

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