NEW DELHI:  A group of women comprising wives of Army officers today met Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in New Delhi urging him to stop the use of “outdated” Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which has claimed a number of lives.

Meenal Wagh-Bhosale, wife of a serving Major in the Indian Army, met with Mr Parrikar for about 20 minutes and handed him a petition which has received about 23,000 signatures online.

“He was very understanding and said modernisation was a top priority for him. He assured us that the government is taking steps to replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters,” Meenal said.

Talking about how dangerous these choppers were, she said at present there are 175 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters in the Army service.

“These choppers are 30-40 years old and had been involved in several crashes killing pilots and defence personnel,” Meenal said, adding that she was satisfied with her meeting with Mr Parrikar.

Meenal said the group of 28 women want new and modern helicopters to avoid crashes and save valuable lives of pilots and other personnel.

She noted that both Cheetah and Chetak have single engines unlike two in the modern models that make the latter more reliable in emergencies.

The Ministry has been trying to procure new helicopters for the defence forces, including the Army Aviation since 2007, she said.

The government had last August scrapped a tender worth Rs. 6,000 crore to procure 197 light utility helicopters from foreign vendors for the armed forces and decided to allow domestic players to manufacture these helicopters.

This was the third time this tender had been scrapped. Incidentally, only a request for information (RFI) has been issued till now.

The last major crash happened on October 1 when a Cheetah belonging to the Army Aviation crashed in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, leading to the death of two pilots and an engineer.

Last month, three Army personnel, including Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, commander of the prestigious Spear Corps, had a lucky escape as a Cheetah helicopter carrying them crashed seconds after taking off from Rangapahar helipad in Nagaland’s Dimapur district.