The BJP on Saturday launched a frontal attack on the Democratic Front (DF) government,questioning its intent over the conservation of the historic warship INS Vikrant.
A decision to scrap the ship,which was decommissioned in 1997,was recently taken after Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan announced that a proposal to convert it into a maritime museum was found unviable. It was also influenced by the Indian Navys insistence that the ship,whose hull had deteriorated considerably,could be considered float-worthy for only six to eight months.
However,BJP leader Kirit Somaiya claimed that DFs ill-intent was to blame for the decision to scrap the ship.
In 1999,the NDA-led Central government had gifted the ship to the state for conversion into a martyrs museum. From the outset,the DF government wanted to commercially exploit the decommissioned warship. After attempts in this regard were repeatedly stonewalled by the Union Defence Ministry,it has now proposed to dispose of it, said Somaiya.
Immediately after coming to power in Maharashtra in 2000,the DF government announced its intention to formulate a plan for the museum within 100 days. However,there were constant flip-flops later.
When the DF government was back in power in 2004,repeated efforts were made to clear decks for commercialisation of the warship. Former CMs (late) Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan wrote to the Ministry several times but successive defence ministers,including incumbent A K Antony,never backed the public-private partnership (PPP) route. The model is nothing but a Rs 200-crore commission scam, he said.
Senior state functionaries refuted the allegations. An apex coordination committee comprising state and naval officials had found that the Rs 600-crore museum project would be viable on PPP basis with minimum viability gap funding from the government. Bids were floated as recently as 2011 and they saw participation of two bidders Aamby Valley Pvt Ltd and Ackruti Developers, a senior official said.
The former backed out after Navy denied permission for commercial flying operation. The ACC rejected the latters bid on January 31,2012 as it was conditional.
Somaiya alleged that the commercial interests were driving the initiative,a contention refuted by state functionaries. Public opinion has always been for preservation of the ship. Neither will we allow its commercialisation nor its disposal. We have written to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan saying that we are willing to contribute money for the conservation project,including the commission amount, Somaiya said.