A whopping Rs 8 crore is drained out of the state exchequer annually towards the helicopter ride expenses of Odisha chief minister and his cabinet colleagues, throwing austerity out of the window.
An official document in possession of OST reveals that the state government has placed a request last month for disbursing Rs 63, 49, 745 towards payment of hire charges of twin-engine helicopter– EC-135 VT-IBA for the month of May.
“I am directed to enclose herewith the original invoice bearing No. DCPL/15-16/009 dated 31.05.2015 ammounting to Rs 63, 49, 745 of M/s Deccan Charters Pvt Ltd towards payment of hire charges for the month of May, 2015 of their helicopter (EC-135 VT-IBA) hired on wet lease basis along with other enclosures as well as a copy of the letter No 863 dated 09.06.2015 of Joint Secretary to Chief Minister and to say that necessary action may please be taken for payment of the above charges after observing formalities and as per the terms and conditions communicated to you vide this Department Memo No 25989/Gen dated 22.09.2014,” CR Patra, Joint Secretary to Government wrote to the Additional Secretary to Government, Parliamentary Affairs Department.
The state government has entered into a yearly agreement with Bangalore-based M/s Deccan Charters Pvt Ltd to provide chartered air services. The twin-engine helicopter –EC-135 VT-IBA– is hired on wet lease basis for which monthly bills to the tune of lakhs are raised.
As per the agreement, the state government bills Rs 52 lakh towards monthly hire expenses and Rs 17.82 lakh for Bangalore-Bhubaneswar trips. Besides, the government also pays for the other expenses of the crew and flight engineers. The hourly flying charges are Rs 51, 820 excluding the aviation fuel expenses. Overall, the chopper travel expenses accounts for nearly Rs 70 lakhs per month.
The government pays around Rs 8 crore annually on the helicopter travel expenses of chief minister and other ministers.
In 2011, the state government had entered into an agreement Deccan Charters to hire Bell-230 helicopters at a monthly expense of Rs 50 lakh. However, in 2012, the government hired EC-135 for Rs 55 lakh. After two years, in 2014, the monthly charges were revised to Rs 70 lakh in view of the increasing cost of maintenance and spare parts.
Notably, the helicopter rides of chief minister and his cabinet colleagues have increased manifold in the recent times. The chief minister is seemingly reluctant to travel even 20-30 km by road to public functions. Recently, the BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik opted for air travel rather than going by road to various functions in Nimapara in Puri district and Khurda, spending a few lakhs from the state exchequer.
During his reign in the last 15 years, the chief minister has availed air services for travelling outside the capital city. Along with the chief minister, several ministers, MPs and MLAs have also accompanied him. Besides, the cabinet ministers are also using the chopper services to participate in the official programmes across the state to ‘save on time’.