29 November-5 December 2013 #683

Flights-of-fancy

CHHETU SHERPA

Flights of fancy Yashoda Timsina, Nepal, 24 November

When Ek Nath Dhakal chartered a Fishtail Air helicopter to Achham, the crowd that assembled there to greet his vehicle of choice almost swept him aside. As president and the only MP of the Nepal Pariwar Dal, he spent Rs 5.5 million of his campaign fund on booking choppers. He was not alone. Almost every senior leader of the major parties took the aerial route around the country.

Aviation companies say it costs Nepalis $1,250 (Rs 125,000) per hour to charter a helicopter. According to the Election Commission, UCPN (M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal took up to four hours going to and coming from remote districts and took two hours to go to nearby places, which jacks up his bill to Rs 6,500,000. His former deputy Baburam Bhattarai spent Rs 5,700,000 in total.

When it drafted the election code of conduct, the EC had banned parties from using helicopters for publicity. But a source inside the EC says that the UCPN (M) lobbied hard and successfully to change the rules.

Twelve companies in Nepal are currently licenced to fly helicopters in Nepal’s airspace. “Even 12 companies could not fulfill the parties’ demands,” admits Fishtail’s Senior Operations Manager Shreehari Kuikel.

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