New Delhi: The country’s oldest warhorse with 30 glorious years of service in the Navy is in danger of being junked and sold for scrap. With March 6 being fixed as the final retirement date for the 58-year-old aircraft carrier INS Viraat, the proposal to convert it into a museum is yet to take any shape.
Ministry of defence (MoD) sources on Monday said it may be forced to scrap the 27,800-tonne carrier, which saw operational service in the Royal British Navy for 27 years before being inducted by the Indian Navy in 1987, because of the imbroglio with the Andhra Pradesh government over who will foot the bill.
“It will cost almost Rs 1,000 crore to convert the 13-storey-high INS Viraat into the proposed aircraft-carrier museum, with a proper final resting place or berthing, backed by a self-sustaining revenue model. The Andhra government is willing to take the carrier but is demanding the MoD foot half the cost,” said a source.
The MoD, in turn, says it can provide technical help and advice, but not major funding for the project. The carrier will now be decommissioned in Mumbai.
The farewell for the “grand old lady”, which will witness the tricolour, naval ensign and commissioning pennant being hauled down for the last time at sunset, will be attended by Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and other Indian officers associated with the carrier as well as around 20 British naval veterans. “First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones is also likely to come for the ceremony,” said an officer.
The Navy is keen on the rich maritime heritage of INS Viraat, which clocked well over 500,000 nautical miles for the nation, being preserved by converting the aircraft carrier into a museum. But it simply does not want the wretched story of India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant to be repeated.
The Navy maintained and supported INS Vikrant at its Mumbai port for 17 years before finally junking it in 2014 because the proposals floated by different government authorities as well as the private sector did not fructify. “A retired carrier will block a premier berthing facility, which is neither available in the congested Mumbai port or the new Karwar naval base. Moreover, constant technical support will be required to ensure its safety and security. If there is no satisfactory proposal, it may be better to scrap the carrier,” said an official.
The Navy meanwhile is preparing to distribute the remaining 11 Sea Harrier “jump jets”, which operated from INS Viraat’s deck, as museum pieces to its different establishments.