Monday, 8 July 2013

Defence Ministry signs death warrant for India's first aircraft carrier

India’s first aircraft carrier, the Vikrant, is finally set to sail into the sunset. 
Defence Minister A.K. Antony recently approved the sale of the retired aircraft 
carrier as scrap. This follows the failure of decade-long plans to convert the 
warship into a Rs.600-crore floating museum in Mumbai. Defence ministry 
officials said final orders for disposing the carrier as scrap are to be signed 
by Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh.

The main reason for the failure of the museum project, however, lies in a 
bitter dispute between the Navy and the Maharashtra government over using 
the ship as a floating helipad. The Navy opposed the state government’s 
proposal to site the warship-heliport off Oyster Rock near the Gateway of 
India. This was because the project would be adjacent to its helicopter base 
INS Shikra in Colaba. “That airspace is extremely sensitive for us and this is 
also the reason we had opposed any helicopter flights from the rooftop of the 
Ambani private residence (the 27-storeyed Antilia),” a senior naval official 
told India Today. The state government says the Rs.600-crore project to 
transform it into a museum would not be commercially viable if helicopter 
operations were not permitted. In a December 11, 2012 letter to then 
defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, state Chief Secretary J.K. Banthia 
said it was difficult to remain committed to the project without active 
financial support from the Navy. The unresolved impasse over the site-the 
Navy wanted it moved up to Navi Mumbai or Cuffe Parade-stalled the project.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s (MMRDA) ppp 
hit a roadblock when two companies shortlisted for the project, the Aamby 
Valley Limited and Ackruti Developers Limited, pulled out of the project in 
January 2012.

The 18,000-tonne light aircraft carrier was built as the HMS Hercules for the 
Royal Navy during the Second World War. It was completed and refurbished 
for the Indian Navy which bought the warship in 1961. The Vikrant served 
in the Navy for 36 years, particularly in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The carrier 
is presently anchored at the naval dockyard in Mumbai. It has been here 
since it was retired from service in 1997 and the Navy wanted to convert it 
into a museum. An intervention by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in 1998 
saw the then Sena-BJP government sanction Rs.6.5 crore for the repair of 
the warship.

The warship was converted into the Indian Museum Ship, INS Vikrant, in 
2000 though the Navy said it would only be a temporary move. After a 
decade of limited public access, the Vikrant museum was finally closed three 
years ago. The Navy expressed fears about the perilous state of the aircraft 
carrier’s aging hull but refused to spend an estimated Rs.22 crore on repairs 
because it was unsure of the state government’s commitment.

Though the warship was transferred to the Maharashtra government in 
the 1990s, it is being maintained by the Navy. Naval officials say the 
700-foot-long warship is taking up valuable berthing space inside the naval 
dockyard and is a drain on resources and manpower. “We barely have 
enough funds to maintain our existing warships,” a senior naval official 

The name of the historic warship will, however, not die. The 38,000-tonne 
Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, currently under construction at the Kochi 
Shipyard and set to be launched on August 20 this year, will also be called 
the INS Vikrant.

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