By LE Desk

New Delhi, April 12: The ongoing dismantling of aircraft carrier INS Viraat got the approval of the Supreme Court today, which dismissed a petition to stop it on the ground that the petition was too late. 

The battle to save the decades-old Navy carrier had been going on for more than a year, with a Mumbai-based company making efforts to turn it into a maritime museum — like the Cutty Sark in London or a score of ships in the US — in collaboration with the government of Goa.

The ship, which served the country for three decades after its stint with the Royal Navy in the British Period, was towed into the shipyards of Gujarat’s Alang in September last year, where the dismantling process had started. In an earlier hearing, the court had ordered a freeze on the dismantling process.

But today, delivering its judgment on the iconic ship’s fate, the court said: “The petitioner had come late to the Supreme Court. Forty per cent of the ship had already been dismantled. We will not interfere with the dismantling”, NDTV reported.

The petitioner — maritime consultancy firm Envitech — had argued that even though 40 per cent of the ship is dismantled, it can be repaired and used as a museum and if it is dismantled “it would be a national loss”. The company had made detailed plans for its conversion into a “major heritage site”, with a Naval and Marine Aviation museum, multi-functional centre involving marine adventure, career development and business hub.  

Chief Justice of India SA Bobde. however, said, “Somebody had paid for the ship. We are with you as far as the spirit of nationalism is concerned. But you are too late”.

The oldest warship in the country, INS Viraat had served as HMS Hermes in the Royal Navy where she fought with distinction in the Falkland Islands war.

INS VIraat was sold to Shree Ram shipbreakers for ₹ 35.8 crore after it was decommissioned, even though the Navy was firmly in favour of saving the ship, which had been in service for three decades.

Envitech had hoped to buy the warship from the Shree Ram ship breakers in Alang for approximately ₹ 110 crore. But the shipbreakers asked for a no-objection certificate from the Defence Ministry, and refused to hand over the ship without it.

In December, Envitech approached the Supreme Court after it became apparent that no such certificate was forthcoming.

Earlier attempts by states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to turn it into a museum had fallen through. A British businessman, who has similar plans, had also failed.

Prolonged disuse and exposure to the elements deteriorated the vessel structurally, leaving it unviable for any use in its present form. Mukesh Patel, the Chairman of Shree Ram Group, has said it is impossible to reassemble the parts that have been cut.

“We have already pulled the ship towards the shore and also dismantled some portions of the hull, making it impossible for the ship to remain afloat now,” Mr Patel had said.

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