INS Viraat 40% dismantled, can’t convert it into museum, says SC

The Supreme Court on Monday cited that 40 per cent of the India’s decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Viraat has been dismantled and dismissed a plea by a private firm seeking to convert it into a museum.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian told the counsel representing private firm Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, “You are too late 40 per cent of the ship is already dismantled, how will you make it a museum.” The firm’s counsel argued that it can seek services of a reputed firm and conduct a survey and get to the top court in the matter.

The bench replied: “Somebody had paid good money for the ship, the govt has entered into a legal transaction for the sale of the ship. They have dismantled 40 per cent. You are too late in the case.” The bench noted that it is with a private firm on the aspect of spirit of its nationalism, but it came to the top court very late.

A private firm Shree Ram Group at Alang in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat bought Viraat at an auction in July last year at Rs 38.54 crore. The firm began the dismantling process in December last year.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Shree Ram Group, said that the Bombay High Court had asked the firm to make a representation before the Ministry of Defence and seek their permission. Dhavan added the defence ministry rejected their plea. The top court said: “We are not going to interfere, High Court allowed you (private firm) to make a representation and the government rejected it. Alright dismissed.”

On April 5, the top court had said: “The ship is now a private property. 40 per cent of it has already been dismantled and it cannot be given the status of aircraft carrier now.”

In February, the top court had barred further dismantling of ‘INS Viraat’, which was in service with the Indian Navy for nearly three decades, and has been beached in Gujarat’s ship-breaking yard of Alang since September 2020. The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing after a week.

Petitioner in-person Rupali Sharma, appearing for Envitech Marine, had submitted they would want to examine the ship to ascertain the status of dismantling. The bench replied, “it has now become a private property and it does not have a character of warship.”

On February 10, the top court had said: “Issue notice. In the meantime, parties are directed to maintain status quo with regard to dismantling/breaking of the subject-ship known as INS Viraat, as on date.”

The top court had also sought a response from the Centre and others on the plea filed by Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited. The private firm seeks to preserve the ship and make it into a museum, and moved the top court seeking direction to stop from it being dismantled. In July 2019, the Centre had informed Parliament that the decision to dismantle INS Viraat was taken after due consultation with the Indian Navy.