New Delhi: An Army officer's wife, representing a group of 28 women, yesterday met Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar here urging him to stop the use of "outdated" Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which has claimed a number of lives.
Meenal Wagh-Bhosale, wife of a serving Army officer, met with Parrikar for about 20 minutes and handed him a petition which has received about 23,000 signatures online.
"He was very understanding and said modernisation was a top priority for him. He assured us that the government is taking steps to replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters," Meenal told PTI here.
Talking about how dangerous these choppers were, she said at present there are 175 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters in Army service.
"These choppers are 30-40 years old and had been involved in several crashes killing pilots and defence personnel," she said, adding that she was satisfied with her meeting with Parrikar.
Meenal said the group of 28 women want new and modern helicopters to avoid crashes and save valuable lives of pilots and other personnel.
Her petition notes that both Cheetah and Chetak have single engines unlike two in the modern models that make the latter more reliable in emergencies.
Asked if she was afraid of any repercusions, Meenal said, "No I am not. We are fighting for a just cause. I am worried about my two children's future and hence fighting this cause".
The government had last August scrapped a tender worth Rs 6,000 crore to procure 197 light utility helicopters from foreign vendors for the armed forces and decided to allow domestic players to manufacture these helicopters.
This was the third time this tender had been scrapped. Incidentally, only a Request for Information has been issued till now.
The last major crash happened on October 1 when a Cheetah belonging to the Army Aviation crashed in Uttar Pradesh's Bareilly district, leading to the death of two pilots and an engineer.
Last month, three Army personnel, including Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, commander of the prestigious Spear Corps, had a lucky escape as a Cheetah helicopter carrying them crashed seconds after taking off from Rangapahar helipad in Nagaland's Dimapur district.
The petition says Indian Army personnel risk their lives to protect the country.
"The least we can do for them is to ensure that they have quality equipment," it said.
Meenal was staying in an Army mess in Delhi Cantonment but left later in the day, defence sources said.
The sources said she left on her own after being told that she could not use the preimises for talking to the media or inviting them over.
In the forces, since the '60s, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited built the Cheetah (original model SA 315B Lama) and Chetak (original model Alouette III) under licence from French state-owned firm Aerospatiale.