The future of INS Viraat appears to be uncertain after its decommissioning by year-end. It is still not clear if the 57-year-old warship will be reborn as a museum, turned into a tourist attraction or preserved as a war memorial.
The possibility of its ending up at a ship-breaking yard and later being sold as scrap cannot be ruled out, too. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t meet the fate of INS Vikrant. “Viraat needs to be preserved as a relic of naval history,” said a senior navy officer.
In 2014, Vikrant, India’s first aircraft carrier, was auctioned and sold to a ship-breaker for Rs 60 crore. It moved many navy veterans to tears. The navy operated the carrier from 1961 to 1997, and the country’s first home-grown carrier is named after it.
After being dismantled, some of Vikrant’s scrap found its way into a motorcycle manufacturing facility. Bajaj Auto’s new motorcycle range ‘V’ uses metal from the carrier, which took part in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
The Pune-based auto maker proudly claims that its latest offering is ‘made with the invincible metal of INS Vikrant’. “Part motorbike. Part war hero,” is how Bajaj describes its product.
Some may argue the government could have done more to preserve the legacy of that ‘war hero’. With Viraat’s decommissioning round the corner, many in the navy are asking if the country will squander another chance to preserve naval history.
The Andhra Pradesh government talked about converting Viraat into a tourist draw but it has not backed its proposal with action. The Centre has written letters to nine coastal state governments to find out if they are interested in associating themselves with Viraat. So far, none have responded.
Maintaining Viraat in its new avatar - whatever it may be - will be a costly affair. Some estimates suggest the initial cost of refurbishing the warship could be around Rs 300 crore if it were to be turned into a hotel or a tourist attraction. The recurring costs will be steep, too.
The Centre is willing to transfer the decommissioned ship’s ownership to any coastal state that shows interest for a token amount of Re 1.
However, it remains to be seen if any of the maritime states will step forward to be a part of a rich national legacy. And if not, does the defence ministry have a back-up plan to prevent Viraat from being sold to be scrapped.