(Written by Omar Rashid)
17 July 2014 - Will India’s first aircraft carrier be scrapped or made a museum?
On the eve of the Supreme Court decision whether India’s first aircraft carrier ‘INS Vikrant’ should be scrapped, former servicemen made a strong pitch for converting it into a maritime museum.
The Maharashtra government has expressed its inability to preserve it as a maritime museum owing to financial constraints. The 16,000-tonne ship, which had helped to enforce a naval blockade of East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — during the 1971 war, was decommissioned in 1997.
Activists and former servicemen said it was a pity that the government could not allocate funds to preserve a “national treasure” even as it was willing to spend Rs. 200 crore to build the Statue of Unity in Gujarat. “The vessel should serve as an inspiration for the future. It’s a shame that she is parked opposite the Darukhana ship-breaking yard, the graveyard of ships,” lamented former Admiral I.C. Rao.
The Bombay High Court had given the go-ahead for the Vikrant to be auctioned in January, after it rejected a public interest litigation petition to save the vessel and convert it into a maritime museum. The Centre said it was difficult to maintain the vessel.
In March, the Indian Navy sold Vikrant to a Mumbai-based ship breaking company for Rs. 63 crore. However, activists recently moved the apex court in a bid to save the vessel. The Supreme Court in May ordered maintenance of status quo.
“The ship is caught in the crossfire between politicians and scrap syndicate,” said former Captain Lawrence Nathaniel, who served two years on the vessel during the 1960s.
The former servicemen, who nostalgically recalled their time on the ship, would also make representations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
To further their point about the feasibility of the project, they have chalked out a plan to address the safety concerns of all the parties concerned. The vessel would be parked on a concrete platform close to shallow waters, and not kept floating, to avoid the danger of sinking. A suitable spot, west of Oyster Rock, has been zeroed in to park the imposing ship. To make the project commercially viable, corporate firms would be invited to sponsor activities on board and treat it as a tourist hub with a convention centre, said Mr. Rao. The ship has 2.6 lakh square feet of space, of which 50,000 square feet can be developed into a museum. The other space can be used as a convention centre. Mr. Rao spoke of the success of similar projects in New York (USS Trepid) and London (HMS Belfast).
Mr. Nathaniel informed that the Vizag Urban Development Authority (VUDA) in Andhra Pradesh had agreed to adopt the vessel as a maritime museum, provided it was brought to the city.The vessel was purchased as HMS Hercules from Britain in 1957 and rechristened ‘INS Vikrant.’