In a first for Bengal, the state government is set to get an aircraft for the exclusive use of the chief minister.
The West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation (WBTIDC) Limited has already floated an e-tender inviting bids for a small, fixed twin-engine aircraft with a minimum seating capacity for seven to nine passengers.
The move came soon after a decision was taken to hire a plane on a long-term wet lease to ensure the swift movement of the chief minister, especially during her visits to North Bengal for administrative purposes.
According to the tender, a copy of which is with HT, the age of the aircraft must be less than six years. The initial tenure of the contract will be for five years, subject to renewal. The earnest money will be Rs 10 lakhs.
Sources said that chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s frequent visits to the districts of North Bengal to chair administrative meetings and oversee the progress of ongoing projects necessitated the decision. “Train or road journey from Kolkata to north Bengal is not only time-consuming, and exhausting, but also often leads to delays in the chief minister’s schedules. In addition, road journeys involve security risks too. A dedicated aircraft for her will solve all these problems,” a senior government official said.
While the minimum utilisation time for the aircraft to be procured will be 75 hours a month, the main route for it shall be Kolkata-Bagdogra-Cooch Behar-Kolkata. However, officials said that the plane will also cater to the Kolkata-Andal-Kolkata route.
Besides paying for the lease, the government will reimburse all airport-related levies to the operator.
Only a few states in India have exclusive aircraft for their chief ministers. In 2014, Uttar Pradesh’s Akhilesh Yadav government decided to acquire a new plane and a helicopter, for about Rs 45 crore each, for the use of the chief minister, cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats.
The state already had two planes and three choppers in its fleet at the time. In the same year, Gujarat decided to buy a new aircraft for chief minister Anandiben Patel at a cost of Rs 100 crore because the earlier one, a nine-seater Super King Air Beechcraft 200, was due to complete its maximum recommended lifespan of 15 years.
Bengal government, however, never had a civil aviation department as the Left Front considered obtaining an aircraft deviation from the policy of frugality.