The Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand has been accused of malpractices in awarding a contract to India Fly Safe Aviation Ltd, linked to Congress leader Naveen Jindal, for a flight service in the state.
The opposition BJP alleged that the government deleted crucial conditions such as security audit to favour the company to fly small planes and helicopters for the air service.
The work tender sought proposals for scheduled services, but Jindal’s company was registered as non-schedule operator (NSOP), aviation industry insiders said. Besides, three more non-schedule operators bade for the contract, especially to fly helicopters to the holy shrine of Kedarnath.
The NSOPs provide charter, seasonal or on-demand air services. There are only 14 scheduled operators in India such as Jet Airways and GoAir, who have a fixed timetable such as daily or weekly flights to a particular destination.
Helicopters of more than 10 aviation companies ferried pilgrims and tourists to Kedarnath, till the shrine was closed on November 1.
From the next season, only the aviation company associated with Jindal will have the sole right to operate the service to Kedarnath. The Kedarnath air route can fetch up to Rs 70 crore in business, industry estimates show.
The tender was floated in November with the state-run Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA), asking bidders to apply for scheduled services for flights between Dehradun and Pithoragarh and a helicopter service to Kedarnath.
A revised tender deleted crucial conditions such as annual safety audit report, proof of having satisfactory services and three years of prior experience, it has been alleged.
The decision to award the contract was challenged in the high court, which has issued a notice to the state government. The court will hear the case next month.
“The aviation policy has been altered to favour a particular operator. Moreover, the fair for Kedarnath has been raised from Rs 2,500-3,000 to Rs 9,200 a person,” said Rajeev Dhar, an aviation expert who has complained to the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Dhar said only single-engine helicopters can fly to Kedarnath but the aviation company has double-engine aircraft and the tender states that it can’t hire specified choppers from other firms to operate the service.
The BJP state president, Ajay Bhatt, demanded a probe to find out “who benefited from the deal”.
Hindustan Times could not contact aviation secretary Meenakshi Sundaram for comments despite repeated attempts, while the state government dismissed the allegations.
Surendra Kumar, spokesperson for chief minister Rawat, said no security norms have been overlooked. “Our intention is to strengthen air services and what’s wrong in it?”
For his part, India Fly Safe Aviation Ltd director Capt Sudeep Singh clarified over the phone that the “company has completed all formalities” and “the government has to reply (on allegations)”.