Jay Panda’s chopper seized for flying over Chilika lake, former MP says ‘cops under pressure’

Odisha Police on Monday seized a chopper belonging to former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) parliamentarian Baijayant Jay Panda over allegations that it flew over Chilika lake, a ‘No Flying Eco Sensitive Zone’. The police also filed an FIR against the former MP.

Panda described the FIR and sealing of the Bhubaneswar hangar as “brazen attempt” to stop him from moving around. “The FIR talks of people seeing the chopper at 1.30 pm. But I had landed at Bhubaneswar airport at 1.30 pm after flying the chopper from Kendrapara. It seems the government is picking up random reports and twisting it. The cops who had come to seize the chopper told my staff that they were under pressure,” said Panda, who quit the BJD in May this year alleging that he was being targeted.

A team of Puri police reached Bhubaneswar airport on Monday evening and sealed the hangar where Panda’s chopper was kept, hours after an official of the Chilika Development Authority lodged a complaint with the police that Panda’s helicopter was flying over ‘No Flying Eco Sensitive Zone’ Chilika made the atmosphere “noxious and fouled” the Chilika water “damaging the navigation route”.

The FIR was lodged by assistant Conservator of Forests of the CDA, Binod Acharya at Marine Police Station in Arakhkuda. Though the FIR did not name Panda, Puri SP Sarthak Sarangi said they had inquired from the Airport Authority of India that the former MP had indeed flown from the Bhubaneswar hangar to Kendrapara along with two other persons on September 15.

“As the AAI authorities did not give us the latitudinal and longitudinal positions of the chopper during Sept 15 flight without the approval of DGCA, we sealed the hangar. We would wait for details of the flight from DGCA before taking further action,” Sarangi told HT.

The FIR alleged that a “white-coloured chopper” was spotted at about 1.30 pm on September 15 flying over Chilika Lake area making huge sound and attempted to land in Arakhkuda and nearby villages. The FIR came a day after an Odia daily reported about seaplane landing on Chilika water that created panic among the locals. The CDA official however in his FIR mentioned the aircraft as “chopper”.

Earlier this month, the Airports Authority of India had dropped the proposal to introduce seaplane facility in the lake after officials in charge of conservation of Chilika advised it citing ecological concerns. terming it legally infeasible and its costs outweighing its benefits. The AAI had announced plans of starting water aerodromes and amphibious aircraft operation in Chilika lake and Sabarmati river of Gujarat.

Chilika Development Authority, the official agency in charge of the lake, had written to the State government stressing that the legal provisions under Wetland Conservation and Managent Rules, 2017 prohibited converting it for no-wetland uses. Chilila lake is a designated wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Nanda said the lake yields around 14000 tonnes of fish every year providing livelihood to 2 lakh fishermen of 158 primary fishing cooperative societies. The sound and vibration during take-off and landing is likelt yo adversely affect the breeding of the prized M Cephalus prawn.

The CDA officials said Irrawady Dolphins in the lake are highly sensitive to sound and their breeding may suffer due to high decibel sound due to the seaplanes. They also cautioned against the seaplane service citing the presence of one million birds congregating in the lake causing bird hazards for the operation of the sea planes.

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