NEARLY a month after the Maharashtra government cleared the decks for the Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, erstwhile INS Viraat, now retired, to be converted into India’s first-ever moored maritime museum-cum-marine adventure centre, Vice Admiral Girish Luthra said only “dignified activities” will be permitted on board Viraat.
“Viraat is still with us and proposals have been received from several states, including Maharashtra, to convert INS Viraat into some tourism destination. We will be permitting only dignified activities there,” Vice Admiral Luthra said on Monday.
Elaborating on what the Navy deemed as “indecent activities”, an officer said: “Viraat is part of our heritage and we wouldn’t permit she being converted into a casino or a gambling den or any such activities.”
In November, the Maharashtra cabinet cleared a proposal to convert Viraat into a commercial business complex. The complex will have a business convention centre, hotel, wreck diving facility and museum among other things. It has also been proposed to provide marine training facility on the ship.
According to the proposal submitted by the state government to the Union Defence Ministry, the planned Viraat museum would be constructed by laying a concrete foundation in the sea and the location is around seven nautical miles from the shore at Nivti rocks in Sindhudurg district. A high power committee, headed by the Chief Secretary D K Jain, has been formed to finalise the terms and conditions for tenders to select a private entrepreneur.
The state’s fiscal managers, in an official communication, said the entire capital expenditure is Rs 852 crore, which includes acquisition, transportation and breakwater and other infrastructure charges of Rs 303 crore. While the government has said that the private partner will bring in bulk of the required capital investment, it hasn’t ruled out incurring capital cost as part of viability gap funding.
Asked about the Navy’s view on the proposed Eastern Waterfront Project and land issues with the Bombay Port Trust — as earlier, Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari had said his ministry would not give an inch of land to the Navy — Luthra said it had been resolved after discussions at the level of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Shipping.
He said the Navy had given permission for the construction and completion of a commercial cruise terminal near the Naval Dockyard and security concerns related to it were being allayed.
INS Vikramaditya that was procured from Russia five years ago and handed over to the Indian Navy without a close-in weapon system (CIWS), which is necessary for aircraft carriers, is finally installed during refit and will be fully operational. “Close-in weapon system has fitted during refit that was going on for the past one year and was completed in November.
Luthra admitted that there was a critical shortage of submarines. “We are trying to start the project 75-I soon. But it has got delayed as the Request for Proposal has not been issued yet,” he said. The project involves a foreign submarine maker manufacturing six vessels in India in partnership with a local Indian company.
On INS Betwa, which toppled in 2016 during refit at the Mumbai dockyard, Luthra said the vessel has been refitted for mid-life upgrade and repair of the hull has been completed. Several new systems have been installed and it will resume service between July and September 2019.