Bhubaneswar, July 18 (LocalWire): At a time when the state is reeling under a whopping Rs 82,570 crore debt, with the burden of per capita loan touching Rs 18,228, the ministers and bureaucrats in Odisha seem to have developed a fascination towards travelling by helicopters.
In a written reply to a question from Congress MLA Tara Prasad Bahinipati, the state’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Bikram Keshari Arukha informed the state assembly that ministers and senior bureaucrats had used helicopters 183 times to travel across the state for government work in over five years’ time between 25 January 2014 and 9 February 2019.
The minister’s reply, however, did not include chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s 104 chopper trips.
Minister Arukha also did not share details of the cost incurred by the state exchequer towards hiring charges of the helicopters by the ministers and few senior bureaucrats.
Former minister of sports and youth affairs Chandra Sarathi Behera topped the list of chopper users.
Behera, who is currently a sitting MLA for Cuttack Sadar assembly constituency, had used the helicopter service 29 times between 9 September 2017 and 2 February 2019.
Former ministers Ramesh Majhi, Sanjay Das Burma and Debi Prasad Mishra were also frequent chopper travelers undertaking 21, 12 and 11 trips, respectively, during the period.
Former Minister Badri Narayan Patra did not figure in the list of chopper travelers while ex ministers, Damodar Rout, Rabi Narayan Nanda, Pratap Keshari Deb, Surjya Naran Patro, Prasanna Acharya, Arun Sahu, Lal Bihari Himarika, Snehangini Chhuria, Pradeep Maharathy and Arukha himself, used the helicopter service once for official purposes during the past five years.
Retired IAS officer and chief advisor to the Odisha government R Balakrishan who undertook chopper travel seven times tops the list of bureaucrats using the helicopter at the state’s expenses.
The average chopper trip undertaken by the ministers and bureaucrats during the last five years comes to 37 per year.
The opposition parties, however, are of the view that those at the helm of governance and administration are milking the state exchequer of a poor state like Odisha.
“While the ministers, IAS and IPS officers used helicopter 183 times in the state, and the government has not disclosed before the members the number of times chief minister Patnaik used the chopper.
Patnaik has a penchant for air travel since he came to power in 2000 and he must have used it more than the total travels put together by the ministers and bureaucrats,” Congress MLA Bahinipati said.
“Naveen Patnaik recently taught his council of ministers and MLAs lessons on austerity and simple lifestyle, and advised them to connect with the people. We hope his subordinates abide by the advice so that precious money could be saved and better utilised for welfare works,” Bahinipati added.
The state government has, however, justified the chopper travel to meet with the exigencies.
“The chopper travel covered far off districts like Koraput, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Rayagada, Kalahandi and Sundargarh districts and saved us precious time.
The average monthly chopper travel comes to three only, which is not astounding as the opposition is projecting,” minister Arukha said.