statesman news service
CHANDIGARH, 21 JUNE: The Parkash Singh Badal government has been left red-faced over its much-hyped rescue operations to evacuate stranded Sikh pilgrims in Uttarakhand after it emerged that the chopper hired for the operations has been grounded at the Jolly Grant airport since the last three days without making a single sortie.
The Badal government had sent a private helicopter for evacuating stranded pilgrims from Govind Dham near the Hemkund Sahib gurdwara in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. An official release had claimed that 800 persons from Punjab were evacuated by it under the supervision of senior officials.
But the state government was left red-faced after the Sri Hemkund Sahib Management Trust&’s vice-chairman Mr Narinderjit Singh Bindra, who also heads the Uttarakhand Minorities Commission, charged that the chopper hired by the Punjab government had been lying idle at the Jolly Grant airport since Wednesday.
He alleged that despite the urgent need to evacuate the 2,800 pilgrims who were stranded at Govind Dham, the helicopter had not made a single sortie. He claimed even Punjab government officers, including special secretary K S Pannu, had hitched a ride to Govind Dham on an Army helicopter.
Mr Bindra said of the nearly 3,000 Sikh pilgrims, stuck at Hemkunt Sahib, nearly 600 were air-lifted by the IAF and helicopters hired by the Uttarakhand government this morning. The remaining pilgrims were evacuated by road after Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel constructed a temporary bridge across the river.
An unconfirmed report said Punjab officials ordered the pilot of the private chopper not to operate flights after he took six Hyderabad-based pilgrims, in critical condition, on his first sortie. The pilot was allegedly told that the chopper was meant only for pilgrims from Punjab.
While there was no response from the Badal government on the allegations, the Opposition Congress demanded an apology from Mr Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal for misleading the people. The leader of the Opposition, Mr Sunil Jakhar, said this is another example of the false promises and claims made by the Badal government.