Naxal-hit states to supplement chopper fleet; plan big hiring

The prominent states which need more helicopters to tackle the Naxal threat "effectively" are Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra while states like Jharkhand and Bihar also want to supplement their air fleet.

The states underlined their problems of dearth of the flying machines and their importance in Naxal-affected areas at the internal security conference of Chief Ministers with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held here recently.

"The BSF helicopter fleet, provided by the Centre and operated by the Indian Air Force, has many limitations. They have strict and limited time limit for sorties. The fleet has about two Mi-17 and four ALH Dhruv helicopters which are hard-pressed catering to six to seven Naxal-affected states," sources involved in anti-Naxal operations said.

"The Union Home Ministry has asked us to hire from private players and hence many states have formulated policies to hire these machines on a long-term basis," they said.

Speaking at the conference on February 1, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked the Centre to consider "placing dedicated military helicopters at the state capital Bhubaneshwar and in Koraput" to respond to any exigency and move into interiors for deep penetration operations.

He said as per the Home Ministry's advice, the state government was also negotiating with commercial organisations to avail dedicated helicopter services for security forces.

"The helicopters are the most vital equipment for combat forces in Naxal areas as they help in quick evacuation of injured policemen and others, while also assisting in sending reinforcements in case of emergency," sources said.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, during the conference, asked the Centre to make arrangements and send a helicopter, currently kept at Raipur in Chhattisgarh, to Nagpur for security and anti-Naxal operations.

The Chhattisgarh government has recently floated tenders to acquire two helicopters from private operators and position them at Jagdalpur for counter-Naxal duties.

Two heli-bases at Ranchi and Raipur are presently operational for Naxal duties and according to rules, the six helicopters -- two Mi-17 and four Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) 'Dhruvs' -- have a fixed time limit of flying for 80 hours in a month to cater to states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa among others.

The BSF is also recruiting pilots and co-pilots for the wing and plans to complete the process by July this year.

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