The battle to save the Navy carrier, INS Viraat -- which served the country for three decades -- from being broken up for scrap has reached the Bombay High Court, with a Mumbai-based company filing a petition that will be heard on November 3. Amid efforts to convert the ship into a maritime museum -- like the Cutty Sark in London or a score of ships in the US -- Viraat was towed into the shipyards of Gujarat's Alang in September, and is awaiting the high tide for beaching.
With time running out for the ship, the petition was filed this evening by the Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, which provides end-to-end marine solutions and is working in partnership with the government of Goa in this matter.
In its petition, the company said INS Viraat is the "oldest serving warship in the world and had served the British navy as HMS Hermes from November 1959 to April 1984".
After refurbishment, it was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1987. "The warship has served India proudly for 25 years and is India's longest serving warship and she does not deserve such a cruel end," the petition read.
Revealing details of the plan in the petition, the company said INS Viraat will be converted into a "major heritage site", with a Naval and Marine Aviation museum highlighting the achievements and history of Royal Navy and the Indian Navy.
It would also be a multi-functional centre involving marine adventure, career development and business hub.
"There will be aircraft exhibits, convention hall, restaurants, exhibition centre, parade ground etc," the petition read. A full-fledged tourist infrastructure will be built around the project to make it financially self-sustaining.
The project will not only be a new asset for the country, it would also mean job opportunities for the locals and boost the state tourism industry, the petition read.
All this, however, can only be done if the Ministry of Defense "gives an NOC to lift the title of SCRAP from the warship and convert it into a PRESERVE," the petition read.
Three months ago, the company had submitted a detailed project report to the Defence Ministry. But despite support of Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, the project proposal has not made any headway within the ministry.
The firm had also reached out to Mukesh Patel, chairman and managing director of Gujarat-based Shree Ram Group, which won the bid to buy the ship and break it for scrap. Mr Patel had said that he was ready to sell the ship for Rs 100 crore. But there was a condition. He was ready to transfer the ship only if there was no litigation involved in the potential sale and the buyer had a "No Objection Certificate from the government and is willing to relocate the ship at their own expense," he had told NDTV.
The petition, however, mentioned that the prospective seller, who is also a respondent in the case, "has suddenly increased the amount of the agreed upon sale transaction from 60 crores to 100 crores in less than a month for no apparent reason".
The Navy is firmly in favor of saving the ship, which had been in service for three decades starting in 1987. Converting the warship into a museum to preserve its legacy is expected to cost around Rs 500 crore. The aircraft carrier, which would be moored along Goa's Zuari river, will operate on a Build-Operate-Transfer model in conjunction with the Goa government.