Updated: April 8, 2022 1:05:26 pm
The Mumbai Police on Thursday registered an FIR against BJP leader Kirit Somaiya and his son Neil on allegations of swindling money collected for restoration of INS Vikrant, Indian Navy’s first aircraft carrier. The Indian Express explains what the case is about and why Somaiya has been charged.
What is INS Vikrant?
The INS Vikrant was the first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy, which gained national prominence for the role it played in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war. The 5-storey, 16,000-tonne warship was decommissioned in 1997, and attempts were made to preserve it as a museum ship in Mumbai. In 1999,the NDA-led central government had gifted the ship to the state for conversion into a martyrs’ museum.
The Maharashtra government had proposed to hire a private entity to transform the ship into a museum featuring a convention centre, a restaurant and maybe even a mall. It had also floated several bids to this effect, none of which materialised.
Subsequently in 2013, a decision was made to scrap the ship as she had become very difficult to maintain. In 2014, the ship was sold in an online auction to a ship breaker for Rs 60 crore. While the sale was challenged, the ship was scrapped in November 2014 after an SC order.
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What is Kirit Somaiya’s role in the INS Vikrant issue?
BJP leader Kirit Somaiya was at the forefront of attacking the then Congress-NCP government in 2013, questioning its intent over the conservation of the historic warship INS Vikrant. Somaiya had then said that the Congress-NCP government wanted to commercially exploit the decommissioned warship by handing it over to private players.
“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,” Somaiya had said in 2013.
Somaiya had alleged that “commercial interests” were driving the state’s initiative to conserve the ship.
“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.
He had then launched a money collection drive to save the ship.
Why Somaiya has been booked
Based on a complaint from one Baban Bhosale, a former soldier in the army, the Trombay Police station has booked Somaiya and his son Neil under section 420 (cheating and dishonesty including delivery of property) and 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust) and 34 (common intentions) of the Indian Penal Code.
Bhosale in his complaint has said that the father-son duo collected money from people claiming it would be used to conserve the ship, but spent it on their personal use. The complainant said he too had paid Rs 2,000 for the initiative, and that the total money collected could be around Rs 57 crore.
What is Somaiya’s response?
Somaiya has denied any wrongdoing and said that he is ready to face any inquiry. “There is no scam in this. I have not done anything wrong. I have not received the copy of the FIR filed in the case. I will keep exposing the Uddhav Thackeray government. I am ready to face the investigation,” he said.
Somaiya has been at the forefront of accusing Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi leaders of corruption. Over the past few months, Somaiya has publicly accused various MVA leaders, including Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray of financial impropriety.
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