The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has told Bombay High Court the state government’s 1998 proposal to convert INS Vikrant into a maritime museum did not gather steam after the government ducked the responsibility for its safety.
Rear Admiral Shankar S Mathur of the Western Naval Command, in an affidavit filed in the High Court, also said India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier is the last of the six aircraft carriers of “Majestic Class” in the world. These ships were launched in 1943 during World War II, it states.
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According to the senior navy official, a substantial sum has been spent in maintaining INS Vikrant pending her conversion into a maritime museum. “As the government of Maharashtra took the initiative for converting INS Vikrant into a museum, the MoD based on recommendations put forward by the government of Maharashtra, deferred the opening of bids/ auction for the ship’s disposal.”
He said the deferment was subject to the state government agreeing to arranging an alternative berth for the ship and accepting responsibility for safety of the ship on completion of underwater repairs by the Navy. The reply states that the repairs were completed in January 2000.
Mathur said the ministry and Indian Navy have been preserving and maintaining the ship for over 17 years since her decommissioning.
After the ship’s decommissioning, Rs 22 crore was spent on three essential repairs and dry docking (emptying it from water). The state government sanctioned Rs 5 crore in 2000, whereas the MoD sanctioned the same amount in 2004 and 2010-11, states Mathur.
The reply states that the average annual cost of manning and maintaining the ship runs into crores. Naval audit authorities, however, have objected to the positioning of a large number of trained naval personnel to maintain the ship.
According to the naval department, INS Vikrant was converted into a museum using in-house naval resources and opened to public in November 2001 without using any public funds. In addition, a training facility for cadets was started in 2006. However, due to its deteriorating condition, it was stopped in 2011. In 2012, the visit by general public was also stopped.
The MoD’s reply was filed in a public interest litigation (PIL) by activist Kiran Paigankar last month, seeking INS Vikrant’s conversion into a national museum instead of being sold as scrap. Paigankar’s lawyer Shekhar Jagtap had informed the court that INS Vikrant played a vital role in protecting the sea borders of India during the war against Pakistan in 1971.
A bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice M S Sanklecha had in December 2013 directed the respondents to file affidavits by January 16. The court, Thursday, adjourned the case till January 18.