The Punjab government has no helicopter for rescue operations in case torrential rains in Punjab cause flooding.
The provincial government sent its own helicopter for overhaul and the federal government refused to provide an alternative helicopter on rent, documents available with The Express Tribune show.
The provincial government purchased a MI-17 helicopter in May 2004. Its flying life of 1,500 hours expired in July 2010 because it was excessively used by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to visit far-flung districts to monitor development work and hold public meetings, said sources.
Last month, the helicopter was sent to Russia for servicing after being kept in a hangar for almost a year. The Punjab government will now have to pay Rs161 million for the overhauling and training of two pilots from Russia. The helicopter is scheduled to return in September. “Now the government is confused on how to handle rescue operations in case of floods,” an official from the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD) said.
The VIP Flight and Maintenance Cell owned two Beechjets 400 with a boarding capacity of nine people, including two pilots. One was purchased during the tenure of Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo and the other during Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi. One had been grounded in 2008 over technical faults, while the other is now operational.
The home department purchased a MI-17 helicopter because the government had to hire a helicopter from the Ministry of Defence to manage the visits of entitled personalities to far-flung areas of the province in case of any emergency. It was purchased from Russia for Rs150 million.
It was later decided that the MI-17 helicopter should be used for all rescue and relief operations in case of floods, famine and earthquakes. It can board up to 10 people.
Last July, Chief Secretary Nasir Mehmood Khosa requested the prime minister’s secretariat to provide a helicopter on rent for monitoring various development projects by the chief minister. The federal government, however, said that limited helicopters were available and it was not in a position to rent one to the Punjab government.
A senior official of the S&GAD, requesting anonymity, said the helicopter would return in September and the chief minister was using the Beechjet to supervise development projects.
Authorities in Punjab have been alerted after the Flood Warning Centre said low-level floods may hit Ganda Singh border areas in Kasur and its surroundings by tonight. The centre said if the water flow in river Sutlej reaches 50,000 cusecs, it will become a low-level flood, threatening to submerge over 20 villages.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2011.