BJP president Rajnath Singh found himself in a controversy after news channels showed a small aircraft carrying him take off from an unlit airstrip in Dumka in northeastern Jharkand in pitch dark — guided only by the headlights of Sports Utility Vehicles and jeeps.
Refuting reports that Singh forced the pilot to fly the eight-seater aircraft flouting Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) norms, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said in New Delhi that the Air Traffic Control, Kolkata permitted the flight.
“The aircraft was given permission to fly from Dumka airstrip at 5.40 pm. It took off at 5.41 pm. There is no truth to reports that Rajnath Singh forced the pilot to take off,” Prasad said.
Officials at the Deputy Commissioner’s office, Dumka, said the aircraft took off under adverse conditions after 6 pm. “At that time, visibility was quite low. The runway had to be illuminated by the headlights of SUVs of the BJP leaders who participated in a rally at Poreyahaat in Godda district to guide the plane for take-off,” said a senior officer, who refused to be named.
The plane also had former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda, state BJP chief Raghubar Das, Godda MP Nishikant Dubey on board.
The Dumka airport, inaugurated last year by former chief minister Sibu Soren, does not have a night landing facility, ATC tower or other basic infrastructure such as communication gadgets.
In New Delhi, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel asked for a DGCA report on Dumka airport incident.
Any action on the matter would be taken only on receiving the report. Patel, however, asked all VIPs to refrain from taking avoidable risks and cautioned all pilots to strictly adhere to all safety norms.