Soon, pilgrims would be able to book online helicopter rides to the Kedarnath shrine through a single window system. The tickets will be available for the helicopters operated by all the aviation firms chosen for the service. Till now, the aviation firms used to individually sell tickets in both offline and online modes. The operators and tourism associations have opposed the move, which officials said is aimed at cracking the whip on touts and those involved in black-marketing of tickets. A similar single window system is already in place for Amarnath and Vaishno Devi yartras. The portals to the shrine will re-open on April 18, but the single window ticketing system for copters is likely to be put in place in two months. The platform is being developed by the tourism department and Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA). “We had received complaints from Rudraprayag’s district magistrate about black marketing of tickets and how touts were flourishing in the area. To check this irregularity, we will start the online single window ticketing system from June,” Dilip Jawalkar, secretary tourism, said. The step is being taken in consultation with the UCADA, he said. In September last year, hundreds of pilgrims were stranded at Kdedarnath after the UCADA suspended the helicopter services of all nine aviation firms that were operating the flights. The UCADA move had come after the companies failed to submit a compliance report as per the National Green Tribunal’s directions.With pilgrims facing problems, the tourism department had then asked the UCADA to open a booking counter at Kedarnath. Now, with the help of Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN), the counter will be established, once the online booking system is launched, to help pilgrims make on the spot bookings and cancellations. The operators are already protesting against a tender floated by UCADA inviting bids from aviation firms to run copter services at Kedarnath. The tender stipulates that the bidding was open to companies, which own two helicopters and have one on lease.This condition has nullified the chances of 75% companies, operating in Uttarakhand. As per the operators, only three companies fulfil the norms. They said the remaining six firms will have to shut down their offices.Additional chief secretary Om Prakash along with additional secretary, UCADA, R Rajesh Kumar met the operators earlier this week to allay their fears over the tender process. The operators want the government to change the tender norms. “We will take decision in the interest of people. Transparency in ticketing is needed and we also want to check black marketing. We will be submitting the final document on tender and other processes before the CM,” Om Prakash said.The operators and tourism associations, however, are not convinced. “The operators started booking the tickets at least six months ago. Now, their (government’s) policy has changed. It is going to hamper tourism sector. The operators have a full calendar and don’t have any slots to accommodate more passengers. The proposed online system is only going to add to the chaos,” said Ashutosh Kumar, president, Uttarakhand Travel and Tourism Welfare Association. Kumar further said that the government has no dedicated policy on cancellation of tickets, shifting of passengers (to copters operated by other firms), and overweight passengers among others.Helicopters are the preferred mode of travel for many pilgrims who do not want to trek through a treacherous 16-km route between Guptkashi and Kedarnath. The helicopter services also gained popularity after massive flash floods in 2013 that killed over 5,000 people. The fare for helicopter ride in Kedarnath is between Rs 3000-7000 depending on the distance of the helipad. There are 14 helipads around the shrine. The helicopter services, however, had turned into a problem in the environmentally sensitive Kedarnath valley. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), in a report submitted with the NGT last year, had said that firms were operating the helicopters at altitudes as low as 150 metres, leading to massive noise pollution that in turn affected the fauna in the valley. The report had come following a study which was conducted after a PIL was filed with the NGT seeking aviation policy in eco-sensitive zones like Kedarnath.