Come polls, netas love to hop onto helicopters to reach out speedily to the people. Punjab politicians are no exception and are willing to shell out huge sums of money on their favourite vehicle for campaigning in assembly and parliamentary polls.
Though almost all political parties use helicopters, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which ran a no-holds-barred campaign under president Sukhbir Singh Badal, arranged 82 chopper rides for its top leaders during the 2012 assembly elections in Punjab, using them for short distances sometimes. A few of these rides lasted barely five minutes.
The expenditure details submitted by the SAD to the Election Commission of India after the 2012 assembly elections showed that the party arranged helicopters from five companies during the poll campaign. The party shelled out a total of Rs 1.42 crore for the winged beauties from December 24, 2011, to March 9, 2012 (polling was held on January 30, 2012).
Of this, Rs 6.51 lakh were paid to Air Charter Services, Rs 10.91 lakh to Excel Aviations, Rs 91.83 lakh to Global Vectra Helicorp and Rs 2.57 lakh to Saraya Aviations. Badal-owned Orbit Aviations also got Rs 30 lakh. Barring a return flight from Delhi to Mumbai on February 22, 2012, for which the party had paid Rs 6.35 lakh and 11 flights to Delhi from Punjab, most other flights were made within the state. The opposition Congress, which has numerous jet-setting star campaigners, also chartered helicopters for its leaders to cover poll-bound states.
Though no state-wise breakup of expenditure of the party on chopper rides is available, the All India Congress Committee spent Rs 37 crore on VVIP chopper rides on the campaign trail in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, where the polls were held simultaneously. The Punjab Congress spent Rs 48,400 on choppers used by its local leaders.
Another national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which contested 23 seats in alliance with the SAD in Punjab, shelled out Rs 11.27 crore on flying machines for its top leaders in all five states.