Kedarnath: 2nd phase flying schedule fixed; copter service resumes | dehradun | Hindustan Times
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Kedarnath: 2nd phase flying schedule fixed; copter service resumes

Helicopter services resumed in the Kedranath Valley on Wednesday after the Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA) allotted flying schedule to eight aviation companies for the second phase of this year.

dehradun Updated: Sep 13, 2017 20:22 IST
Nihi Sharma
On Tuesday, the UCADA had suspended helicopter services in Kedarnath valley after they failed to submit documents related to compliance with National Green Tribunal directives.
On Tuesday, the UCADA had suspended helicopter services in Kedarnath valley after they failed to submit documents related to compliance with National Green Tribunal directives.(HT File)

Helicopter services resumed in the Kedranath Valley on Wednesday after the Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA) allotted flying schedule to eight aviation companies for the second phase of this year.

On Tuesday, the UCADA had suspended the helicopter services in the Kedarnath valley after they failed to submit documents related to compliance with the National Green Tribunal directives on height and level of noise that the helicopters generate. The aviation companies had not submitted 10% royalty to the government, which was another reason for halting the services for a day.

Officials inform the post-monsoon allocation of slots was to be done and it was only possible after the companies submit details of the flying height. The NGT had directed helicopter operators to fly above 600 m (2,000 ft) from ground level for minimising any adverse impact on the eco-sensitive Kedarnath valley.

“We had to allot schedule for the second phase for which documentation was necessary. The companies were not responding and so, we had to take action. We had to ensure that the companies are complying with the NGT norms,” UCADA additional chief executive officer R Rajesh Kumar told Hindustan Times.

He added the Authority is ready with the necessary papers, which means the report of each company and their compliance is now available “We are prepared. If the tribunal asks us details, we have it all now,” Kumar said.

The helicopters generally operate in two phases in Kedarnath. During the first phase of the pre-monsoon period between May and June, a specific schedule is released for every company so that only six copters fly at one time as per the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) norms.

During monsoon, flight permission is subject to weather conditions. The second phase generally starts in July end. But due to incessant rainfall, the phase started in the first week of September and ends when the Kedarnath portals are closed for winter in November.

The state government permitted 13 companies to ferry pilgrims to Kedarnath this year. Of these only eight companies are operational. The Authority will remain in touch with the remaining five companies that are neither operating nor submitted any document for discontinuing services.

The helicopter services in the Kedranth valley is highly risky as per experts. As a mitigation option, the Wildlife Institute of India, in its report submitted to the NGT, had recommended constructing ropeways for facilitation pilgrims. “Ropeways would be a sustainable option which would not interfere in the ecosystem of the Valley,” WII director VB Mathur had said. On August 30, the NGT had questioned the government on the status of the ropeway project in the valley.

The flashback

It was in 2013 when the then divisional forest officer submitted a report to the forest department highlighting that unregulated helicopter is causing damage to the breeding of various high-altitude wild animals such as Musk Deer. The same year the catastrophic flashfloods left a trail of destruction in the Kedarnath Valley.

In 2015, an NGO filed a petition before the NGT raising concern over the helicopter service in the Kedarnath Valley. The government roped in the WII, which found helicopters were flying as low as 15 m above the ground causing noise levels of 70-80 decibels - higher than permissible limit near a protected area.

HT exclusively published the findings of the report on which the NGT ordered the helicopter service to comply with its orders. In May, the chief secretary submitted to the DGCA that the helicopters would fly above 600 m in the valley.