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Chopper services to Hemkund still on temporary basis, strict norms blamed

Helicopter services to Sikh shrine Hemkund Sahib are still working on temporary arrangement even three weeks after opening of its portals due to strict norms of Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority

dehradun Updated: Jun 11, 2018 22:00 IST
Nihi Sharma
Nihi Sharma
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Hemkund Sahib in Chamoli district.(HT Photo)

Helicopter services to Sikh shrine Hemkund Sahib are still working on temporary arrangement even three weeks after opening of its portals due to strict norms of Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA).

Tender for helicopter services to the Sikh shrine was released along with four other shrines -- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath in April. But, people close to the matter claimed due to strict norms, none of service providers qualified.

As a result of which, UCADA issued tender again for the route on May 21 -- four days before the yatra was to start.

When none of the companies submitted their bid, the authority engaged two helicopters on temporary basis for pilgrims when the portals of Hemkund Sahib opened on May 25. Over 30,000 pilgrims have already visited the shrine.

Instructions of the authority mandate “owned or leased helipad in Govindghat”.

Aviation services are available from Govindghat till Ganghria. Valley of Flowers, the world heritage site is 4 km from the helipad and the shrine is about 11 km.

In addition, companies, already operating in Kedarnath, were deemed ineligible for the services at Hemkund.

Bidders, as per the tender, should have one helicopter on its non-scheduled operations which could be flown with a consortium with partners with not more than 3.

“The strict norms of tenders has led to this temporary arrangement,” Rajeev Dhar, who owns a helipad at Tirjuginarayan and also approached the high court last month challenging strict tender norms.

The authority released tender over three times for Kedarnath. Reason: Strict clause because of which consortium was approved.

“Initially there was no restriction on multiple bidding. But, because the multiple bidding is stopped as per the re-tender, it’s understood why none of the companies could bag it. If any consortium fulfils the mandate, then what’s the harm in operations at multiple places,” he said.

Helicopter services to Hemkund began in 2011. However, due to the 2013 deluge, the number of tourists dropped both at Hemkund as well as Valley of Flowers.

The world heritage site, a major attraction for foreign tourists, has managed to attract number of tourists.

As per official estimates of the forest department, after Kedarnath tragedy, in 2014-15 only 139 tourists visited the protected area.

Number of tourists swelled to 6,503 in 2015-16, 9,611 in 2016-17 and last year the number rose to 13,754. Last year, 569 foreign tourists visited the heritage site.

“The helicopter services certainly made the protected area accessible. But, 90% of the tourists are serious trekkers and not commercial ones,” said Mann Singh, director of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR) and Valley of Flowers.

R Rajesh Kumar, additional secretary of UCADA, said, “Both the companies that are currently flying shuttle services in Hemkund Sahib are not eligible. But, we took special permission from the chief minister in the interest of pilgrims. We are re-tendering again today which will be published tomorrow so that we could have permanent services for the yatra season this year.”

First Published: Jun 11, 2018 22:00 IST