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India's greatest war ship INS Vikrant set to be scrapped

MUMBAI, JUNE 24: It is curtains for India's greatest aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. After a year of suspense over its fate and countrywide debate over converting it into a museum-cum-war memorial, the warship will sail to a shipbreaking yard. Ironically, it will most probably be broken down in Bangladesh, a country that INS Vikrant had helped create in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Many had hailed the idea of converting the ship into a museum-memorial. It would have taken Rs 76 crore and a place to berth it somewhere in Mumbai, possibly near the Gateway of India. This was apparently a tall order for a disinterested State Government and an apathetic bureaucracy that could not firmly clear the proposal of a war memorial for Vikrant.

Ultimately, after two years, the Directorate of Naval Procurement, Naval Headquarters, New Delhi, has written to the Metal Scrap Trading Corporation (MSTC) in Mumbai, to float tenders for scrapping and disposal of the ship.

On June 14 this year, the Directorate of Naval Procurement wrote a letter (number DPR/DISP/0443) to MSTC to float tenders for the disposal of INS Vikrant as scrap.

With this letter, all hopes of converting the decommissioned INS Vikrant into a Rs 76 crore museum and war memorial -- the first of its kind in Asia -- have been dashed.

Sources in the Indian Navy have informed The Indian Express that following Maharashtra Government's reluctance to fully assist in converting the ship into a museum, the naval head-quarters had no other alternative but to seek permission from the Ministry of Defence to send the ship for scrapping.

Ironically, it is also reliably learnt that the ship will be sold to ship breakers in Bangladesh as tenders will only be invited from that country.

When contacted on Saturday, the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Naval Command, Vice Admiral Madhvendra Singh, confirmed about the ship's disposal. ``INS Vikrant was our most glorious warship, but we are very sad to see her imminent disposal. Though we were hopeful of converting Vikrant into a maritime museum, things did not work out with the State Government,'' a grim Vice Admiral Singh told The Indian Express. He, however, denied having any knowledge of the ship being sent to Bangladesh.

Last year, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray had intervened and saved the 14,552 tonne warship INS Vikrant being auctioned for a paltry Rs 5.80 crore. The then chief minister Narayan Rane had granted a cheque of Rs 6.5 crore on behalf of the State Government for the refitting and refurbishing of the ship.

However, things never moved forward and the proposal of a maritime museum was shelved with the change of state government.

``In return for a small sum from the sale of the ship as scrap, we are losing an opportunity to tell our future generations about the greatness of our national heritage,'' said an ex-Naval officer referring to the USS Lexington, a historic aircraft carrier that fought for the US Navy in the Second World War and has been preserved as a museum in Corpus Christi, Texas. The ship is on the tourist map of the US and already generates a staggering $62 million (over Rs 2,700 crore) annually.

Even if the Vikrant could generate a fraction of this cost, it could pay back the estimated Rs 5 crore required for its annual maintenance and running of the ship.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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