Heed rules


There have been far too many close shaves involving helicopters carrying the country’s VIPs in recent months. In the most recent incident on Wednesday, the rotor blades of a helicopter President Pratibha Patil was travelling in hit a shed while it was taxiing in towards the parking bay at Bhubaneswar airport. Patil was lucky.

Had the president’s helicopter hit one of the three choppers parked in the vicinity, there could have been a bigger mishap. This is the second time in less than a year that the president has had a narrow escape. In February, an Indian Air Force helicopter of the presidential fleet almost collided with an Air India aircraft that was readying for take-off at Mumbai airport. Thankfully the AI pilot swerved and avoided hitting the chopper. Some months ago, an aircraft carrying BJP president Rajnath Singh took off from an unlit airstrip in Dumka in Jharkhand in light guided by only the headlights of jeeps. More recently, a helicopter carrying Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi landed after sunset in clear violation of rules that require take-off or landing of choppers before sunset.

Pilot error is often blamed when things go wrong. Indeed, in several cases, pilots ignore safety procedures. The joint probe into the near-collision of the president’s chopper and the AI plane at Mumbai airport found that the chopper landed on the runway without clearance from air traffic control. However, it is not fair to blame the pilot alone for breaching rules. Often politicians pressure the pilot to fly or land in adverse conditions in brazen violation of aviation rules.

Stern action must be taken against pilots who violate procedures. But politicians who fly in these aircraft too should be taken to task as often it is they who force pilots to break rules. Politicians must bear in mind that the government is pouring millions of rupees to keep them safe. Their irresponsible behaviour is unacceptable as they are putting at risk their own lives and that of other personnel on board the aircraft. Moreover, they are treating with utter contempt tax payers’ money that is being spent on their security. They are accountable to the public and must conduct themselves with greater responsibility. They should realise that rules apply to all and they are not above established procedures.

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