After directions from the Election Commission (EC), Chief Electoral Office (CEO), West Bengal, has decided not to allow indiscriminate use of state-owned helicopters by star campaigners of political parties. A few days ago a meeting was convened at the CEO office, where it was decided that star campaigners requisitioning the helicopters would be required to provide the details of the usage a few days in advance.

The CEO&’s office will give permission to candidates to use helicopters only if they provide valid reasons for the use. Senior officials of the CEO office said that they had observed that often star campaigners of various political parties approached them for permission for use of helicopters without stating the actual reason, and as a result there was indiscriminate use of helicopters.

The average cost of hiring a multi-engine helicopter is Rs.2 lakh per hour and a star campaigner usually flies three to four hours a day to address rallies. Officials of the CEO office said that excessive poll expenditure by candidates is a serious challenge before the commission. Sometimes, helicopters and ambulances are used to transfer black money to be spent in elections, and it would be monitored. According to the officials they have already convened a meeting with district magistrates and superintendents of police and have intimated them that they should provide the necessary information on indiscriminate use of helicopters.

On 2 April 2014 the Trinamul Congress wrote a letter to the Election Commission, asking how Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi could use Pawan Hans helicopters for public meetings even as party chief Mamata Banerjee had to cancel a trip to Assam for lack of one. The Trinamul letter also referred to the EC’s instruction of 9 April 2009, which stated that aircraft or helicopters owned by government and public sector undertakings should not be used by political functionaries during election campaign.