Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Calling IAF pilots for Dhruv surveillance

AMIT GUPTA


Ranchi, June 23: A spurt in Naxalite violence in the past few weeks has prompted the state to seek the services of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots to fly its lone armoured chopper, Dhruv, grounded for seven months due to suspension of licences of its erstwhile pilots.

Principal secretary to the governor Sudhir Tripathi said the defence ministry had been requested to send two pilots. “We have come to know that the ministry has circulated the message to various IAF commands. We are looking for pilots who may take interest in serving in Jharkhand.”
Dhruv, born in a Hindustan Aeronautics Limited workshop in Bangalore, was procured in September 2007 to fly counter-insurgencysorties and run rescue operations in the tribal hinterland that has been grappling with Naxalism for more than a decade.

Unfortunately, it was used more often to ferry VIPs. Successive chief ministers and their coterie of ministers and MLAs used Dhruv to fly around the state even though the chopper was bought with funds from the police modernisation kitty and primarily for anti-Naxalite surveillance.

Dhruv was grounded on November 30, 2008, after the licences of both its pilots were suspended by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation following allegations of violations of safety protocol during floods in Jamshedpur last year.

So, during the recent Naxalite strikes in Goelkera, West Singhbhum, Bermo and Nawadih, Bokaro, and in Palamau, the home department had to seek the services of IAF choppers. Five air force choppers were also pressed into service during the April-May Lok Sabha elections. “It takes almost four hours to send requisition and get an IAF chopper. We send an official request to the defence ministry, which, in turn, sends a message to the Ranchi command and, finally, services can be availed. During emergency situations, time is the luxury we do not have,” pointed out a senior police officer.

“In case of Dhruv, one needs just 45 minutes as standby time and the machine is ready for take off,” he said, explaining the importance of time when it comes to saving the life of an injured police or paramilitary personnel.

Dhruv operations are handled by the state civil aviation department, but the home department is entrusted with the job of maintenance. Earlier, a proposal had been mooted to hand over full control to the home department, but the plea was never taken seriously.

The home department had even drawn up a standard operating procedure for Dhruv, but it was never implemented. If air force pilots are deputed, the same would be done. Sources said the home department was also incurring a monthly expenditure of Rs 10 lakh for Dhruv and needed to get it airborne as soon as possible.

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