In the good old days of glory and flamboyance, she hovered over the Ballari skies, leaving the small-town people spellbound. She ferried her masters to Bengaluru for a breakfast of idli-vada at their favourite joint – mind you, from a distance of 300 km one-way for a one-hour breakfast session.
The red beauty, Rukmini, a Bell 407 chopper and prized possession of once-billionaire, mining baron, former minister Gali Janardhana Reddy, truly fitted the advertisement slogan: neighbours’ envy, owner’s pride. Named after his mother Rukmini, Reddy’s personal chopper had many interesting stories attached – a famous one being how he invited VIPs to Ballari and flew them to big cities for fine-dine meals.
Today, Rukmini’s story belies her past grandeur. Parked at Bengaluru’s Jakkur aerodrome since eight years, Rukmini is away from its home and master. Seized by law-enforcement agencies, Rukmini was being looked after by the government for some time. But, over the years, due to non-payment of maintenance fees to Deccan Charters, which was entrusted with its upkeep, Rukmini has been completely grounded.
"The bills have run up to Rs 2 crore and the company stopped chopper maintenance. The company also informed the authorities that it will not be able to carry out the upkeep anymore. Either it is up to the government or its owner to clear the dues," official sources told News18.
The "golden" era of the Reddys came to an end when the CBI, which was investigating the iron-ore scandal, raided the former minister's premises and seized a lot of cash, gold, cars and the chopper worth Rs 12 crore. The sun finally set on Reddy’s Republic of Ballari with the Lokayukta’s huge expose of the mining scandal, resulting in piles of court cases.
Following the seizure, in 2012, Reddy petitioned the CBI court, requesting that the helicopter Rukmini purchased for his firm, Obulapuram Mining Company, be released along with the fleet of luxury cars. This, citing maintenance, the lack of which could damage the vehicles, said a source close to the developments.
Reddy had told the court that the Bell 407 chopper was purchased for Rs 12 crore on a bank loan in 2006, with Rs 10.31 lakh as EMI. Reddy used to pay a monthly rent of Rs 75,000 to the airport authorities in Bengaluru for a hangar facility.
Initially, CBI officials had agreed to pay the rent of Rs 75,000 per month to Deccan Charters towards maintenance. However, over the years, the payment stopped and the bill has run up to Rs 2 crore. In 2017, the high court in Hyderabad directed the CBI court to release the chopper on a personal bond of Rs 6.62 crore.
"While the Reddy family as well as B Sriramulu (current minister) has been informed of the pending dues, there is no action," an official source pointed out.