Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son, deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, have lent a whole new meaning to the epithet ‘Flying Sikh’. In barely three years, they have used the state helicopter for over 700 trips to various places, including many to their village Badal in Muktsar district and to their farmhouse at Balasar in neighbouring Haryana. And this is just the detail of the state helicopter, not of private choppers hired by the state government.
Clocking nearly a flight a day, in the past four years — January 2012 to January this year — the state’s total expenditure on use of helicopters, including private ones, is nearly Rs 50 crore. This means over Rs 12 crore a year or, more simply put, over Rs 3 lakh a day. It was in April 2013 that the Punjab government purchased its own helicopter, a Bell 429 model, for Rs 38 crore. However this did not end the hiring of private helicopters that come at Rs 1.25 lakh to 2.6 lakh an hour. In four years, of the Rs 50 crore in total, Rs 37 crore was spent on private choppers.
Also among those who used the state-owned helicopter are Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ministers Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon and Bikram Singh Majithia, both brothers-in-law of SAD president Sukhbir, whose wife and Union minister for food processing, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, used the service too. At least twice, the chopper was put at the service of Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Luminaries on the list include now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as Gujarat CM; and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who used it when he was BJP president.
The CM and deputy CM made the 700 trips in the government-owned chopper alone since it was bought. Either of them went to Balasar 43 times, while private helicopters hired by the government too were used for trips to the farmhouse. At least 68 times the state-owned chopper took the Badal father or son to Kaljhirani, helipad site for Badal village. Another 31 times the helicopter took the Badals to Bathinda.
CMs and governors of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are among other users, while bureaucrats and top cops are on the list too.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) RTI team in-charge Dinesh Chadha, who collected the information, said the Punjab government was misusing the state helicopter, especially in trips to Balasar, and also needlessly hiring private choppers. “I have given a complaint to the accountant general of Punjab to audit the use of state and state-hired choppers for private trips,” he added.
But Abhay Chandra, adviser, civil aviation, Punjab, said 700 chopper trips in three years “is not extraordinarily high”. “The CM has the authority to approve any number of trips for himself or anyone else. All trips listed in the information provided by our department under RTI have been undertaken in accordance with rules,” added Chandra, who also holds temporary charge as director, civil aviation.