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Modi govt to sell INS Viraat as scrap, naval fraternity questions sense of heritage

Aircraft carrier INS Viraat was decommissioned in 2017, and there were many proposals for her utilisation, but the govt found none to be good enough.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has decided to sell decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Viraat as scrap, a move that has led many in the naval fraternity to question India’s ability to preserve military history and heritage.

There had been demands to not let Viraat go the INS Vikrant way. INS Vikrant, Viraat’s predecessor and India’s first carrier, had also been eventually scrapped. Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik, however, told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply Monday that while the government received many proposals for the ‘Grand Old Lady’ of the Indian Navy, none was considered good enough.

“INS Viraat could not be handed over to any state government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal. Thus, in view of considerations of safety, security etc., a decision to scrap INS Viraat has been taken in due consultation with Indian Navy,” Naik said.

Viraat came back into the headlines during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign when Modi claimed that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had used the aircraft carrier for a family holiday in 1987.

INS Viraat: History and significance

INS Viraat holds the Guinness record for being the oldest serving warship in the world — she was originally commissioned as HMS Hermes of UK’s Royal Navy in November 1959.

The 27,800 tonne ship played a key role for the Royal Navy in the Falklands War in 1982, before being decommissioned in April 1984.

India purchased her after refurbishment, and commissioned her as INS Viraat on 12 May 1987. She was eventually decommissioned in 2017.

Viraat operated Sea Harriers (White Tigers — fighter aircraft), Seaking 42B (Harpoons — anti-submarine helicopters), Seaking 42C (commando carrier helicopters) and Chetak (search-and-rescue helicopters).

Official records show that various aircraft flying from the decks of INS Viraat clocked over 22,034 hours, and the warship spent nearly 2,250 days at sea, sailing nearly 11 lakh kilometres. She circumambulated the globe nearly 27 times.

Viraat also participated in Operation Jupiter in 1989 (the Indian peace-keeping operations in Sri Lanka) and Operation Vijay in 1999 (Kargil War), and took part in important international joint naval exercises — the Malabar exercise with the US Navy, Varuna with the French Navy, and Naseem-Al-Bahr with the Oman Navy.

Viraat’s last major appearance was at the International Fleet Review (IFR-2016) at Visakhapatnam. She was finally succeeded by INS Vikramaditya, which was commissioned in 2013.

Also read: As Modi attacks Rajiv Gandhi, spotlight is on INS Viraat’s glorious history as naval warship

Former sailors anguished

Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) expressed anguish over the prospect of seeing INS Viraat being sold as scrap.

“INS Viraat is history and heritage. The government can spend Rs 3,000 crore on statues, but can’t it work out a plan which will see the expenditure of about Rs 500 crore to keep it as a great tourist attraction?” he asked. “What was needed was a public-private partnership to keep the glorious ship intact. With hundreds of rooms and even a helipad, among other facilities, the carrier could have easily being turned into a tourist attraction.”

Echoing Prakash’s remarks, Vice-Admiral Jaggi Bedi (retd) tweeted: “Indeed a sad day for Naval fraternity. Nation does not have the will, inclination or tradition to preserve such historical artifacts (sic) — which would motivate future generations and keep maritime history alive. No Wilkinson Swords to be made either!!”

Commodore Uday Bhaskar (retd) also expressed anguish on Twitter.

“Sad indeed- for a nation that finds resources & political will 2 erect statues of varying size/shape/symbolism with alacrity, this rank indifference 2 historic naval icon reflective of India’s strategic culture & maritime myopia. Many sailors will recall 1987 Viraat induction,” he wrote.

‘Could’ve been used for target practice’

Recently-retired Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba had said in 2017 that he had proposed to the government that INS Viraat be converted into a marine museum by taking her to one of country’s major tourist harbours and “sink her in the water and make her into a dive site… and she would be there as a legacy”.

Admiral Prakash gave another suggestion. “Rather than selling it for a few crores as scrap, the ship could be given a sea burial to be used by the Navy for target practice. Everyone is talking about how carriers are sitting ducks. The Navy should use Viraat to see how many missiles and torpedoes can actually bring down an aircraft carrier, a knowledge which will come handy in future,” he said.

Also read: From INS Vikrant to INS Imphal, how names of Indian Navy ships have evolved over the years


Other proposals

Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had submitted a proposal to convert INS Viraat into an aircraft museum, with tourist and hospitality components. It proposed a joint venture with the Centre, but the defence ministry rejected the proposal in 2016.

In 2018, the Maharashtra cabinet approved a proposal to convert the carrier into a museum and hospitality centre on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, but there were no takers.

The Maharashtra government also wrote to Navy chief Admiral Karanbir Singh on 7 June, asking for permission to sink the recently-decommissioned guided missile frigate INS Ganga off the coast of Sindhudurg district and convert it into an artificial reef for divers. It said the move could generate thousands of jobs in the area and boost the regional economy to the tune of Rs 100 crore annually.

In 2006, the United States had sunk its aircraft carrier USS Oriskany after detailed ecological and human health studies off the coast of Florida. The ship now supports a living reef, popularly referred to as the ‘Great Carrier Reef’, and is accessible to divers.

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  1. Vice-Admiral Jaggi Bedi (retd) tweeted: “Indeed a sad day for Naval fraternity. Nation does not have the will, inclination or tradition to preserve such historical artifacts (sic) — which would motivate future generations and keep maritime history alive. No Wilkinson Swords to be made either!!”
    Why only Naval fraternity but for the whole Armed Forces personnel, history lovers as well as the patriotic forces.
    This action of BJP Government proves, “Traders take more risk than soldiers”!
    Not the right example to prove this incidents? Think the greed of the traders, which surpasses the risk of the wrath of the veterans, soldiers, their families and the people!!

  2. Great, so we’re supposed to keep every old bit of equipment our military every used? People are nuts. If they love it so much they can pay to maintain it.

  3. Although a Modi supporter I am anguished. please save the heritage. Keep it near Mahabs, Puri, Goa as a tourist museum.

  4. Kachra socialist Modi will sell her to fund freebies subsidies reservation loan waiver schemes

  5. What a short-sighted decision selling as scrap would be? Instead of spending thousands of crores on statues, here is a readymade historic artefact that could earn so much revenue as a museum. Is parking a ship of such heritage value a big challenge for a country with such a massive coastline?

  6. In the wild, an elephant perishes and in a matter of hours it is gone. That is the eternal cycle of life. 2. Unrelated perhaps, but there was no need to convert Teen Murti Bhavan into a memorial. It could have served as the permanent residence of the Prime Minister of India.

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