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|April 5, 1999||
Vikrant rots in harbour, forgotten
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
After having served the nation for almost four decades, INS Vikrant lies forgotten. Neither the Union defence ministry nor the Government of Maharashtra seems to be interested in the fate of the once-majestic aircraft carrier.
Vikrant, decommissioned in 1997, was supposed to be converted into a maritime museum. But more than two years later, its fate is uncertain because of the standoff between the Union defence ministry and the Government of Maharashtra.
The ship has been surrounded by controversy ever since its decommissioning.
The Government of Maharashtra and the defence ministry had agreed that Vikrant would be converted into a maritime museum at an estimated cost of Rs750 million, to be borne by the state government.
On this condition, the defence ministry gifted Vikrant to the state government and waived the ship's Rs180 million scrap value.
But local fishermen, who feared for their trade, opposed the state government's proposal to berth the ship near the Radio Club, Colaba, south Bombay. Some environmentalists also objected to the proposed site.
Vijay Bandarkar, president of the Bombay division of the Maharashtra Machchimar Kriti Samiti (Fisherfolk's Action Committee), said, "We are proud that Vikrant is going to be located in our city. We only requested the state government to select a place that will not be a hindrance for local fishermen."
Today, following the prolonged delays, both the defence ministry and the state government seem to have forgotten the warship.
"Today, nobody in the Maharashtra government knows anything about this subject. After Chief Minister Manohar Joshi quit, we have not been informed by the state government what the ship's fate will be," said Bandarkar.
Joshi had held a series of meetings with local fishermen to learn about their objections to the floating museum. But his successor Narayan Rane has not even met the fishermen after taking over.
Naval officers are also tight-lipped about the ship's future, saying everything now depends on the defence ministry and the state government.
"Technically speaking, once a ship is decommissioned it cannot be used for war and we therefore consider it scrap," one officer said on condition of anonymity.
Senior officers refused to comment on the subject, and directed Rediff On The NeT to Maharashtra Cultural Affairs Minister Pramod Navalkar.
Navalkar, in turn, passed the buck on to Rane. "The matter is being looked after by the chief minister. You can put your questions to him. I have nothing to say."
Pressed for a reaction, however, he said: "We are positive about the ship's future. The state government will take positive steps."
Asked to elaborate, he merely said: "You will see that in the coming days."
To that, Bandarkar retorted: "We have been hearing this for very long, that a decision will be taken soon. But the fact is that nobody in the state government is interested in talking to us. So we are also keeping quiet."
Another grey area is where the money to be spent on the museum project, if it does come through, will come from. The state government has promised to bear the burden of Rs750 million, but how is unclear, what with its ballooning deficit.
Meanwhile, Vikrant rots at the Naval Dockyard.
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