CHANDIGARH: Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is leaving no stones unturned to cut down state expenditure. He has taken several austerity measures, including a bare-minimum usage of the state-owned helicopter, to tackle the state’s financial crisis.
According to sources in the civil aviation department, ever since Singh took charge as the CM four months ago, the average flying time of the state-owned copter has been just 10 hours per month.
One-hour flying cost of the five-seater Bell 429 helicopter is Rs 1 lakh, which includes cost of petrol, maintenance and salaries of pilots and engineers. If a chopper is hired from an operator, the charge goes up to `1.80 lakh per hour.
During his last tenure (2002-2007), Singh used to fly an average of 20 hours a month. He used to often fly to his home town Patiala from Chandigarh. This is not the case anymore, with Singh opting to travel to Patiala by road this time.
“He (Chief Minister) flew to Delhi from Chandigarh and vice versa. He also flew to Amritsar a couple of times—once to Gurdaspur on Independence Day and once to Mansa. Singh has not been flying regularly, unlike his predecessor,” said a senior official.
Explaining the other situations when the chopper was used, the official said, “Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal flew to Talwandi Saboo to attend a function. Also, DGP Suresh Arora used the helicopter this week to fly across the state to take stock of the law and order situation in the backdrop of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction.”
On the other hand, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had been frequent flyers. In the last 10 years, the Badals had spent a little over Rs 100 crore on their flying. They flew two hours a day on an average either in the state chopper or planes hired for them by the government.
According to a civil aviation department official, during the Badal government, the state copter used to fly an average 480 hours a year. While the government helicopter flew about 40 hours a month (480 hours a year), the hired choppers or planes flew about 30 hours a month (360 a year)—an average of 70 hours every month (840 a year)—which meant two hours of flying everyday.
The CM has also scaled down his security personnel from 1,392 to 1,016 and ordered to end all deployment on his travel routes. His security is likely to be cut down further after the next review. He has also stopped use of sirens while he travels by road.
Singh has, time and again, made it clear that in the light of the state’s financial situation, he did not want to incur any unnecessary expenditure. His swearing in ceremony in March this year was a simple affair.