Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has run up a maintenance and operation bill of Rs 11.5 crore for his helicopter sorties from 2009 till date, revealed the state civil aviation department in response to an RTI application.
The helicopter is also used by the CM's cabinet colleagues and other dignitaries, though travel details have revealed most of the expenses were incurred on the trips made by Abdullah.
The application was filed by Bashir Ahmad Malik, 32, a below poverty line resident of Drang village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Malik had sought details of travel undertaken by the CM, as well as the amount spent, including pilots’ salaries and fuel expenses.
According to the RTI response, the distance travelled has been 2 km at the minimum – from Nehru helipad in Srinagar to Sheri Kashmir International Convocation complex (SKICC) on the banks of Dal Lake. In two years, Abdullah has flown between SKICC and Nehru helipad four times.
Commissioner civil aviation S Katoch, however, said: “It is not the CM. Only the helicopter travelled to SKICC where the CM was having a meeting. After the meeting he flew to other places along with other dignitaries".
Gulmarg has been a favourite haunt for Omar, according to the travel log. On August 14, 2009, he made seven sorties between Srinagar and Gulmarg along with “guests” whom the civil aviation department did not name.
Katoch said, “The CM does not misuse his official position. Many regions are inaccessible by road. Flying is also a necessity due to the prevailing security scenario. It is also the most efficient way to monitor activities of development and progress in the state.”
The fuel charges for the helicopter since January 2009 till June 2011, as revealed by the RTI response, has been more than R2 crore, while R5 crore have been spent on maintenance charges. Pilots’ salaries have come to R3.21 crore and landing and parking charges were R21 lakh.
Principal secretary to Omar, BB Vyas, refused to comment.