New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday asked the private firm seeking to preserve India’s decommissioned aircraft carrier ‘Viraat’ and convert it into museum, to file its response on the report of status of dismantling of the warship.
The centaur-class aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, was in service with the Indian Navy for 29 years before being decommissioned in March 2017.
‘Viraat’ had reached the Alang ship breaking yard from Mumbai in September last year and the dismantling process was going on.
Another private firm Shree Ram Group at Alang in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat has bought Viraat at an auction in July last year for Rs 38.54 crore and began the dismantling process in December last year.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian posted the matter for further hearing on April 12.
During the hearing, the bench, after perusing the report on the status of dismantling of ‘Viraat’, asked the private firm Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd if 40 per cent of the warship has been dismantled after a valid purchase by another company, then why does it want to take it for making a museum. Petitioner in-person Rupali Sharma, representing Envitech Marine, said that she would like to inspect the ship to ascertain the status of dismantling and added that, “around the world these warships are preserved”.
The bench told Sharma, “We share the same sentiment as you have about preserving the warship. But it has now become a private property and it does not have a character of warship. “We will give you (Sharma) one week. You go through the report and file your response to it”.
At the outset, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Shree Ram Group, which has purchased the warship in an auction and is currently dismantling it objected to the petition filed by Sharma’s firm.
“This firm is represented before the court by a director of the company and does not have money to even hire a lawyer. We don’t know the petitioner. It has not appeared even in auction. This is a fly-by-night petition,” Dhavan said. The bench told Dhavan, “Why can’t you raise this issue about the petitioner before the High Court”.
Dhavan replied that to argue in person before the top court an application has to be filed and permission has to be granted by the court itself. The bench said the application was considered and she was granted to argue in person by the registrar. Dhavan then said that since the stay granted by the top court on February 10, they have been spending Rs 5 lakh per day to maintain the vessel.
The bench asked Dhavan, how his client incurs the cost on the ship, if nothing is being done due to stay order.
Dhavan replied that the vessel is being pulled to the beach for dismantling and to keep it beached it needs efforts especially during high tides. He said that the situation will worsen in monsoon, when high tides at the sea are frequent. “We have already dismantled around 40 per cent of the ship and all important parts have been taken out,” he said, while referring to the report the company has filed that major fixtures like machinery, navigation devices, and furniture have all been taken out.
He said, “The vessel is totally grounded and is a dead structure” and even the Centre has refused to give no objection certificate for making the warship a museum. The bench asked Sharma to go through the report filed by Shree Ram Group and file the response in one week.
On February 10, the top court had ordered status quo on dismantling of ‘Viraat’ and sought responses from the Centre and Shree Ram Group on the plea Envitech Marine, which has offered to pay Rs 100 crore for the ship, so that it can be converted into a museum. The Centre had in July 2019 informed Parliament that the decision to scrap Viraat was taken after due consultation with the Indian Navy.
Viraat is the second aircraft carrier which is being dismantled in India. In 2014, Vikrant was dismantled in Mumbai.