The Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold the further dismantling of INS Viraat, the iconic aircraft carrier decommissioned by the Indian Navy following a plea by a Thane-based group which wants to buy it and convert it into a maritime museum.
Issuing notice on the petition filed by M/s Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited through its directors Vishnukant Sharma and Rupali Vishnukant Sharma, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde ordered, “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 group had earlier approached the Bombay High Court with its request. The High Court asked the Defence Ministry to take a decision on their representation for a No Objection Certificate from the government to acquire it. The ministry, however, rejected their request for NOC, following which the group approached the Supreme Court.
Mukesh Patel, the chairman of Shree Ram Group, which has been dismantling INS Viraat at Alang shipbreaking yard in Gujarat since December 1, said, “We are yet to get a formal notice or message from the court seeking stoppage of dismantling activity. In absence of any formal order, we continue to break the vessel.”
He added that a sizable portion of the aircraft carrier has been dismantled, including the flight deck, ski jump and the accommodations meant for sailors. “Roughly, we have broken 40 per cent of the aircraft carrier,” he said.
Before the breaking process began, manholes were also drilled into different parts of the vessel to allow passage of air and light in order for workers to cut the vessel with gas torches.
INS Viraat had originally entered service with the Royal British Navy as HMS Hermes in 1959 before it was sold to India in the 80s. After being in service for nearly 30 years, the Indian Navy decommissioned the warship in 2017.
On September 28, 2020, the ship was docked at Alang, and in a formal ceremony organised by Shree Ram Group, Union Minister for Shipping Mansukh Mandaviya and Rear Admiral Puruvir Das, the Flag Officer Commanding, Gujarat Naval Area, had bid adieu to the vessel.
On September 30, 2020, Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd went public with its attempt to save the aircraft carrier. The shipbreaker demanded Rs 100 crore for the vessel and sought a no-objection certificate from the Defence Ministry.
Patel said they went ahead with the dismantling two months later as Envitech failed to enter into a formal agreement with them or produce the NoC from the government.