Centre allows Maoist-hit states to hire helicopters

New Delhi: The Centre has decided to allow Maoist-hit states to hire helicopters on their own from private firms to use them for anti-Naxal operations till it acquires eight Mi-17V-5 choppers.

Home Ministry officials said the Central government would reimburse all the expenses to be incurred by the state governments in hiring the helicopters, which will primarily be used for casualty evacuation, emergency reinforcement of forces and transportation of medicine and other supplies.

The decision has been taken after the Home Ministry`s plan to hire nearly a dozen helicopters from Ravinder Rishi- owned Vectra group`s subsidiary Global Vectra Helicorp has come a cropper after aviation regulator DGCA suspended its operating permit. Rishi is being probed by the CBI in alleged irregularities in the supply of Tatra trucks to Defence forces.

The Home Ministry will give up to Rs 15 crore per annum to each of the Naxal-affected states for hiring helicopters. Ministry officials feel that with that much of fund, a state can get 30 hours flying time of choppers every month.

Meanwhile, the Home Ministry is in the process of buying eight Mi-17V-5 helicopters to assist its forces engaged in internal security duties, including anti-Naxal operations.

The Ministry of Defence is negotiating with a foreign firm to purchase around 80 Mi-17s. "The MoD has been asked to buy eight helicopters in addition to their actual requirement. The MHA will use these additional helicopters," an official said.

The Mi-17V-5 is designed for utility cargo work and can carry up to 36 passengers or four tons of weight. The machine features advanced multifunction cockpit displays and upgraded TV3-117VM engines.

At present, four MI-17 helicopters of the IAF along with a few from the Pawan Hans stable are deployed for duties in the anti-Naxal operations grid. The ALH Dhruv fleet, maintained by the BSF, has been grounded by the government after it met with accidents. Before the crashes near Ranchi and Raipur, it had seven Dhruvs.