Helicopter services for Kedarnath were suddenly suspended on Tuesday morning after the nine helicopter companies operating in the Kedarnath Valley failed to produce evidence of environmental compliance to a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order. The NGT order had asked the State government to keep the noise levels due to helicopters flying over the Kedarnath Valley in check.
The helicopters flying through the Kedarnath Valley need to fly at an altitude no lower than 600 metres, R. Rajesh Kumar, additional secretary, civil aviation, said. However, a report by the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, which was submitted to the state forest department, mentioned that the helicopters in the Kedarnath Valley were flying at an altitude as low as 150 metres, thus increasing noise levels to 70-80 decibels, which were above the permissible levels (50 decibels during day) for a protected and ecologically sensitive area like the Kedarnath Valley. The low flights were opted for to save on time and fuel.
In May, this year, the Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA) had asked the helicopter operators to install a GPS tracking device on the helicopters flying through the Kedarnath Valley. The GPS coordinated recorded in the tracker were to be sent to UCADA.
G. Seetaiah, chief engineer with UCADA said, “We sent emails, notices to the helicopter companies, but none submitted the required reports of the GPS coordinates to us, which we needed to check whether the helicopter operators were flying through the Kedarnath Valley at appropriate altitude. However, none of the operators submitted the report, so we had to suspend helicopter operations.”
However, the helicopter operators submitted the GPS reports on Tuesday afternoon after the State government’s decision to keep the helicopter operations suspended till the operators furnished the details. Seetaiah said, “The helicopter companies submitted the GPS reports today [on Tuesday]. We are scrutinising the reports. Only those companies whose reports show that they were flying no lower than 600 metres in the Kedarnath Valley will be allowed to operate in the valley.”