Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Helicopter Strikes Again?

Since Saturday evening, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu has remained untraceable. Having taken off from Tawang to Itanagar via a chartered Pawan Hans helicopter, the chopper went missing within 20 minutes, setting off a massive search and rescue operation.

Already, the operation has assumed transnational proportions with the Bhutanese Army joining in. The chopper could have landed in Bhutan, which neighbours the Northeastern Indian state.

All this brings back memories of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Rajashekhar Reddy's death in a helicopter in 2009, an incident that sparked off a wave of chaos in the southern state. However, the siutation here is ndifferent becaue in the North East, helicopter is a major mode of transport.

The incident clearly reflects the poor work done by Pawan Hans in maintaining its choppers in good condition and providing adequate training to its pilots. Presumably, the state-run company, which enjoys a virtual monopoly in the Northeast, forgot its duty to its customers, the people of India in that region in this case. Already, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have canceled Pawan Hans' operations and are preparing fresh tenders.

In the short-run, the Union Government must press all its wings into action to find - alive or otherwise - Chief Minister Khandu. A lot has already been done, with the Air Force leading operations in the sky, the Bhutanese Army on the ground and ISRO from space. Sources say that the President is also monitoring the situation. OTFS hopes and prays that Mr. Khandu is found safe and alive and stands with the people of Arunachal Pradesh.

In the long-run however, we need to seriously look at improving surface transport in the hill areas of the Northeast and Sikkim. Over-reliance on one system - helicopters, in this case - can be dangerous, as this incident proves. The Northeast deserves better and money is definitely not an issue in this case. The nation has enough money to build roads, but both the state and central Governments need to show resolve to use it properly.

As the search and rescue operations continue, you can monitor the situation from news channels which have flocked to Guwahati and Itanagar. We stand together in this hour of crisis as one nation.

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