The West Bengal state transport department's decision to hire a 10-seater air-conditioned plane on a "wet lease" of three to five years, has sparked huge political controversy. The BJP is labelling the state government's decision "politically motivated" and procured for a "self-proclaimed Prime Minister" (Mamata Banerjee).
On June 11, the West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd floated an e-tender for wet-leasing a fixed-wing, twin-engine aircraft for three to five years. The plane should be a twin-engine air-conditioned 'Falcon 2000' category aircraft with a "minimum seating capacity of 8-10 passengers", the tender said.
In a wet lease, the owner provides the aircraft as well as the crew to the lessee and is responsible for maintenance. The Bengal government will assure a minimum business of 45 hours every month, the tender document states.
Senior transport department officials said several states, including Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, had this arrangement. They stressed that there was no scope for any irregularity as the e-tender was a public document and could be accessed by any willing participant.
Mocking the TMC supremo, Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the opposition in the Bengal assembly, uploading the first page of the tender, wrote a tweet saying the aircraft was being hired at public expense to campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Without naming chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Adhikari said a Pushpak Rath (the mythological flying chariot) was being procured for a "self-proclaimed Prime Minister."
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said, "The government already has a helicopter. Why does it need an aircraft when there are only three operational airports in the state? This is a waste of public money."
TMC Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy said, "Many states in India have more than one plane. Adhikari should be aware that before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls Narendra Modi used the Gujarat government's plane to fly between different states for carrying out campaigns."
Former Kolkata Corporation mayor Firhad Hakim alleged that the file for hiring the plane was cleared by Suvendu Adhikari himself when he was the transport minister.
State Trinamool Congress Kunal Ghosh said, "These turncoats don't remember that he also availed the facility of the helicopter when he was the transport minister of the state".