Nation’s 1st aerial seeding project grounded after Lohegaon scare
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It was supposed to be a pilot project in aerial seeding — the first ever in the country by paragliders. As many as 15 para motorists were to fly over five districts in the state scattering seeds on barren lands, hoping rain would help them sprout. The project planned to kickstart in August has been postponed to the next rains, the reason being unidentified glider-like objects spotted over Lohegaon Airfield on June 29-30.
Organisers of the project, Aerosports Association, Wings and Flights, had jointly planned it with Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK). They are now assisting investigating agencies in probing the glider-like objects and more importantly, working towards creating a framework within which paragliders in the country can operate, a requirement the incident highlighted.
"The incident wrongly got reported as 'paragliders spotted'. The weather conditions on June 29 were not feasible for paragliders to operate. This surfaced in investigations that followed. We are law abiding citizens and have never indulged in such activities. But all of a sudden, it has become difficult to obtain permissions and approach authorities," said Eric Menezes, chief paragliding instructor, Wings and Flights.
NYK was to approach the collectors of the five districts and tie up with forest officials for the project. "We wanted to carry out the activity during the rainy season. Experts were contemplating whether we should carry out the event in April-May or later, but now it has been postponed to next year," said Yashwant Mankhedkar, district youth coordinator of the NYK.
While aerial seeding activity is just one example, the paragliding community in the city — 400 registered paragliders and four clubs — have been at the receiving end since June 29-30. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) mentions that regulating paragliding is a state subject and paragliders need to seek clearances from the local Air Traffic Control (ATC) before flying. While the IAF has been supportive, the paragliders are facing problems as their basic operational framework is now being questioned.
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