Since the introduction of the RAB air wing almost a year and a half ago, the only time the use of a RAB helicopter was visible to the public eye was when Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana was flown to Dhaka from Jessore after his arrest.
Apart from that incident, the elite force has hardly been able to utilise two of its helicopters – that cost around Tk56 crore when it was bought in February last year – to combat crime, with the exception of some operational activities outside Dhaka.
Describing the operational support of the RAB choppers, acting director of RAB air wing Major Syed Nazrul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that they had used the helicopters to supply ammunition and provide logistical support to crime-busting operations surrounding the January 5 elections in different districts such as Lakshmipur, Bagerhat, Habiganj and Bogra.
“Moreover, we used the two choppers for patrolling the air on every big national occasion such as Independence Day, Language Martyrs Day, Bangla New Year celebration, and during Eid, Puja and Bishwa Ijtema to keep an eye on activities for ensuring peaceful observance of the occasions,” he added.
Senior Rapid Action Battalion officials – ranked director general, additional director general and wing directors – also used the helicopters to fly to different districts to coordinate special “sensational” operations, Major Nazrul said.
However, according to the air wing register and operation details, the two helicopters were used for the rest of the year to carry the state minister for home, lawmakers, government officials, foreign delegates and top law enforcers including the inspector general of police to different destinations.
Asked about this, Major Nazrul admitted the issue, saying the services of the RAB choppers were availed by top politicians, officials, foreign delegates and other top officials of law enforcement agencies as per the directive of the authorities concerned.
Asked who the authority was in this regard, the RAB air wing chief said the directives were processed through the Home Ministry.
Wing Commander ATM Habibur Rahman, director of RAB’s legal and media wing, told the Dhaka Tribune that the force was working as a modern and technology-based force that tracked down criminals in the fastest way. The helicopters were a part of the technological support that helped the force provide any kind of emergency support and operations across the country to prevent criminals from escaping.
However, RAB and other law enforcement agencies recently drew flak for their failure to prevent Nur Hossain, the prime accused in the Narayanganj seven-murder case, from fleeing to India.
Earlier, RAB was also criticised for using one of its helicopters to fly Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana, whose alleged negligence claimed the lives of at least 1,134 people in Savar last year. Allegations were raised that it was a misuse of RAB resources to fly Rana to Dhaka, when most top criminals were transported using roadways.
RAB officials had replied that Rana was flown to Dhaka under orders from authorities concerned as it was a national issue at the time.
According to RAB, Singapore-based Bell Helicopter Middle East (PTE) Ltd supplied the two helicopters from the USA to the elite force in February 2013. An 18-month service agreement was also reached with local company Rahimafrooz at the time.
The RAB helicopters were reportedly bought to combat crime, maintain coordination with roads and river-based forces, conduct operations in remote areas, distribute relief, rescue injured victims, supply arms and ammunition, provide logistical support and carry out patrolling during national programmes.
During their first year of operation, the two choppers required maintenances worth Tk5 crore, including over 40,000 litres of fuel that was needed for different operations.
Explaining the high maintenance cost, Wing Commander Habibur said sometimes a single screw – irrespective of whether it was used or not – needed to be changed after just one month. The helicopters also required maintenance check-ups before and after every operation as well as a major maintenance after every 175 hours of flying.
Currently, the RAB air wing has 39 officials including seven pilots, two maintenance officers and one medical officer. According to sources at the air wing, the total monthly salaries for the air wing officers stand around Tk15 lakh.
According to the expenditure figures of the choppers’ cost and officials’ salaries, the RAB air wing has spent around Tk65 crore since it started its journey.
The Bangladesh Army is currently providing the space, office and officials for the RAB air wing; while a source told the Dhaka Tribune that a draft agreement is waiting to be signed that would ensure that the Army would provide such services for three to four more years.
Source: Dhaka Tribune