J&K Govt fails to obtain benefit of subsidized helicopter services

*People of inaccessible areas remain deprived of Central assistance

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Jan 4: Approved four months back by the Union Government, the Jammu and Kashmir Government has failed to obtain benefit of subsidized helicopter services for inaccessible areas mainly because of ‘dilly-dallying’ approach of the Civil Aviation Department of the State, which has yet not finalized the process of selecting operators. This is notwithstanding the fact that the scheme will come to an end in the month of March this year.
Official sources told EXCELSIOR that on the persistent demand of the J&K Government, the Union Government in the first week of September 2016 approved subsidized helicopter services on the pilot basis in 10 sectors with the stipulation that the most inaccessible destination points should be chosen by the concerned authorities of the State.
It was specifically mentioned in the sanction order that scheme of subsidized helicopter services can be extended to other/additional sectors at later stage depending upon the assessment of the justifiable needs of the local population. While immediately giving nod for start of services on five sectors on Srinagar-Drass-Kargil-Zanskar-Leh axis, the Union Government had given liberty to the J&K Govern-ment for re-alignment based on the fresh assessment to be made by it in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, sources informed.
“The Government of India will subsidize only the cost towards actual number of entitled passengers utilizing the helicopter services and no subsidy will be provided for the vacant seats and emergency services/common passenger services to the residents of the State will be provided on priority and at subsidized rates”, reads the order of the MHA, the copy of which is available with EXCELSIOR.
As per the laid down conditions, the Civil Aviation Department of the State in the month of October 2016 started the process of hiring helicopter(s) on wet lease basis by floating bids. However, this exercise has yet not reached the logical conclusion even four months after the sanctioning of subsidized helicopter services, sources disclosed.
Expressing inability to specify the time-frame for finalization of this exercise, they said, “it seems that the Civil Aviation Department of J&K may not be available to provide benefit of subsidized helicopter services scheme to the people of identified inaccessible areas by March 2017 when the scheme will come to an end”.
It is pertinent to mention here that MHA had made it clear to the State Government at the time of sanctioning of assistance that operation of helicopter services will continue till March 2017 or expiry of contract, whichever is earlier. Even this has also been admitted by the Civil Aviation Department in the notice inviting bids.
“It is matter of serious concern that Government has failed to provide benefit of the Central scheme by timely hiring the helicopter service providers”, sources regretted, adding “the subsidized helicopter service was most imperative during the winter months particularly for the identified areas like Kargil, Padum, Leh, Nubra, Thoise and Drass etc, which remain cut-off from rest of the State and country for several months”.
“Even if the Civil Aviation Department succeeds in finalization of process by end of current month, the people of these inaccessible areas would get benefit of subsidized helicopter services for two months only instead of six months as was the provision of the scheme of Ministry of Home Affairs”, sources said.
They informed that MHA had explicitly told the J&K Government that VIPs, officers of the State Government on tour and tourists shall not be eligible for subsidized fares but the notice inviting bids floated by the Civil Aviation Department reads: “sealed offers are invited from eligible commercial permit holders for multipurpose use including VIP duties”. “This is clear violation of the condition laid down by the MHA even at the stage of hiring the helicopter service providers”, sources remarked.
“The delay in selecting operators is notwithstanding the fact that Governor in his address to Joint Sitting of the State Legislature on January 2, 2017 had categorically stated that Government is seriously engaged with the issue of operationalization of helicopter services to the inaccessible areas of the State”, sources pointed out.
It is pertinent to mention here that Joint Working Group constituted by the Union Government had also recommended subsidized helicopter service on Srinagar-Kargil-Srinagar; Srinagar-Drass-Srinagar; Kargil-Padum-Leh-Padum-Kargil; Leh-Lingshed-Leh and Srinagar-Leh-Srinagar routes and the scheme of MHA was sanctioned keeping in view these recommendations also.