In poll-bound Bihar, there has been a 50% dip in hiring of helicopters for campaigning amid the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, as compared to 2015.
On Thursday, 11 choppers, which were hired for campaigning, were parked at the Jay Prakash Narayan International Airport in Patna.
Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) has hired one chopper that will be pressed into service from Sunday onwards.
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Parties had hired around 25 choppers and fixed-wing charter aircraft during the 2015 assembly polls, while around 32 flying machines were deployed during the parliamentary elections last year, said an airport official.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has hired six of the 11 choppers that are being pressed into campaigning.
The Congress, the Janata Dal-United JD (U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has hired one chopper each. Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) has also requisitioned a helicopter.
“The requisitioning of choppers has gone down by 50% this year, as compared to 2015, when up to 25 of them were hired for campaigns. Besides, some fixed-wing charter aircraft were also deployed,” said Devendra Kumar, station in-charge, Aurea Aviation, a Mumbai-based ground handling firm at the airport.
“So far, the JD(U), the Congress and the RJD have reduced their requirement to just one chopper. Each of these parties had hired two choppers during the 2015 polls,” said Kumar.
A JD (U) leader weighed in on the dwindling demand for choppers.
“Initially, the emphasis was on holding virtual rallies because of the Covid-19 outbreak, but later the Election Commission of India (ECI) allowed parties to address small rallies. Now, there is little time left for campaigning on the ground,” he said.
The BJP was the first to get off the campaigning block, when its party president JP Nadda hopped on to a chopper from Patna and flew to Gaya to address a rally on October 11.
On Wednesday, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar took a chopper for campaigning to Banka, Bhagalpur and Munger. On Thursday, he flew to Jamui, Lakhisarai and Sheikhpura.
On Monday, Kumar had hit the campaign trail, albeit, on a virtual mode.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav took a chopper ride to Samastipur on Wednesday to join elder brother Tej Pratap Yadav, who filed his nomination papers from the Hasanpur assembly seat, which goes to polls in the second phase on November 3.
However, Congress leaders are yet to take to the skies by choppers even though the flying machine has been parked at the airport for the past week.
“Our leaders are yet to begin flying. I can tell you on Saturday about our campaigning plans. Choppers are hired by the AICC (All India Congress Committee) headquarters in Delhi,” said Rajesh Rathore, Congress’s chief spokesperson in Bihar.
All the choppers hired by the political parties are twin engines, except for the one requisitioned by the JAP. The choppers have a maximum seating capacity of eight people, including two pilots, said the official.
The BJP has hired new choppers and their seating capacity is between six and eight people. The JAP has hired the smallest chopper, which has a seating capacity of five, including two pilots.
The charges of these choppers vary between Rs 65,000 and Rs 4 lakh an hour, with a minimum commitment of three hours of flying a day. The hiring charges depend on the engine — single or twin — passenger capacity, flying comfort etc, the official added.
Bihar goes to polls on October 28, November 3 and 7. The election results will be declared on November 10.
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