SC paves way for INS Viraat’s dismantling

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, noted that the ship has already been 40% dismantled by a ship-breaking firm that bought it in an auction last year.
Supreme Court. (HT archive)
Supreme Court. (HT archive)
Updated on Apr 13, 2021 12:35 AM IST
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By, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the decks for the dismantling of iconic warship INS Viraat, dismissing a petition on converting the decommissioned vessel into a maritime museum.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, noted that the ship has already been 40% dismantled by a ship-breaking firm that bought it in an auction last year.

“It has already been broken to the extent of 40% by the company which has spent a considerable amount of money in purchasing the decommissioner ship. What is there we can do now? You have come very late,” the bench, which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian told Rupali Sharma, the representative of petitioner M/s Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd.

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After the Bombay high court refused to interfere in November 2020, the company in January this year moved the Supreme Court with a plea that it was willing to buy INS Viraat from the ship-breaking company, Shree Ram Group of Industries, so that the historic warship could be converted into a maritime museum. Envitech offered to purchase it for 100 crore.

Agreeing to consider this plea, the top court in February stopped further dismantling of the ship, and asked the ship-breaking firm, based in Gujarat’s Alang, to consider Envitech’s offer.

But senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the ship-breaking firm, informed the bench that at least 40% of dismantling work has been completed for the ship, which was bought last July at a price of 38.54 crore in a valid auction.

Dhavan also cited an inspection report by the Marine and Technical Surveyors on February 12 that found the vessel to be a “dead structure” not capable of being in seaworthy condition or navigational position. The report added that the vessel has got severe hull damage in several areas and that all kinds of machineries and operational manuals have been removed from it.

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The senior counsel said that the high court directed the Union defence ministry to take a decision on the representation made by the company to acquire the ship, but that representation was also rejected on November 27, 2020.

At this, the court said that it was too late in the day to interfere with the matter now. “We are with you as far as the spirit of nationalism is concerned, but you are already too late in this case. 40% of the ship has been dismantled. We cannot interfere now,” observed the bench.

It also told Sharma that her company had not challenged the order of dismissal of the representation by the defence ministry. “The government has already rejected your representation, and there is no challenge to that. You have come too late. We are lifting our stay and dismissing this petition,” it remarked.

INS Viraat, India’s flagship aircraft carrier for 30 years, was decommissioned in 2017. It was previously commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes, and was in service from 1959 to 1984.

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