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Supreme Court Dismisses Special Leave Petition Stating INS Viraat Is In ‘Grounded Condition’ and Calling It A Dead Structure

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Excerpt

A writ petition was filed by the petitioners seeking a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the Ministry of Defense of the Government of India, for the conversion of the warship INS Viraat from scrap to preserve. It was disposed of by the High Court of Bombay, without commenting upon the merits of the claim of the petitioners. Being aggrieved by the order, a special leave petition was presented before the Supreme Court.

Facts of the Case

INS Viraat, formerly known as HMS Hermes, is the oldest serving warship in the world. It served the British Navy from November 1959 to April 1984 and after refurbishment, it was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1887.

The parliament was informed on 1.07.2019 that the government and the navy have decided to scrap INS Viraat due to incurring expenditure on its upkeep. The Government regarded it as a financial liability. Therefore, a public auction was organized through a Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC Ltd.) for its sale. In December 2019, a public auction was held but was cancelled as the highest bid was not sufficient.

Petitioner wanted to preserve INS VIraat as a memorial to strengthen traditions, history, and heritage. Blackstone Corporation Canada issued a letter of Interest on 26.03.2020. Therefore, petitioner No.3 addressed a letter dated 28.07.2020 seeking advice on converting the warship into a Maritime Museum cum adventure centre. The First respondent sought a NOC from the Government of Goa. By a reply dated 20.09.2020, the Chief Minister of Goa stated that the State Government can issue no objection provided the Ministry of Defence agreed to the proposal of petitioners. 

However, in the meantime, fresh tenders were open and the second respondent became the highest bidder. The second respondent made a payment. Rs.38.5 crores and a delivery date of 22.10.2020 were issued. The ship was permanently bleached on 30.09.2020 and the petitioners approached the second respondent. By a mail dated 6.10.2020 the second respondent, without giving any guarantee, advised petitioners to take a NOC from the Government of India. Conditions cited by the second responded were that first, 100% payment should be made before 12th October 2020, and Second, that the deadline for pulling the ship toward the ocean was 15th October 2020.

The petitioners could not comply with these conditions and filed a writ petition in the High Court of Bombay. However, this writ petition was disposed of directing the Union of India to decide on the representation of the petitioners. Being aggrieved by the order a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court. 

Petitioner’s Arguments

The petitioners came up with the above special leave petitions. Considering the spirit with which the petitioners had come to Court, notice was ordered in the special leave petitions and an interim order to maintain status-quo concerning dismantling/breaking of the ship was also granted.  

Respondent’s Arguments

The second respondent came up with applications for urgent hearing and vacating the status quo order and the Court took up the Special Leave Petitions for consideration.

Court’s Observation

The court observed three facts in this matter. The first is that the second respondent was willing to subscribe to the sentiments of the petitioner, subject to certain conditions. Second is that after the disposal of the writ petition, the Ministry of Defense passed an Order rejecting the representation of the petitioners. Thirdly, the second respondent claimed to have started the dismantling 3 months ago according to the certificate issued by the Marine Surveyors. According to the surveyors, the vessel is in ‘grounded condition’ and can be called a dead structure.

Court’s Decision

The Court while dismissing the special leave petition appreciated the sentiments of the petitioners and stated that the court at this point and under these circumstances cannot do anything as the vessel is a dead structure.  

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