“We are afraid that we cannot do anything”; Read why Supreme Court refused to interfere with the dismantling of INS Viraat, the oldest serving warship in the World

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ has refused to interfere with the dismantling of INS Viraat, the oldest serving warship in the World.

Considering that about 35 to 40% work of dismantling had already been completed, the Court said,

“… while appreciating the sentiments of the petitioners, we are afraid that we cannot do anything at this stage and in these circumstances.”

INS Viraat, formerly known as HMS Hermes, served the British Navy from November, 1959 to April, 1984 and after refurbishment it was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1987.

On 1.07.2019 the Parliament was informed that the Government had taken a decision, in consultation with the Navy to scrap INS Viraat, as the Indian Navy had been incurring expenditure on its upkeep and no State Government was willing to take the ship, on account of financial liability. Therefore, the sale of the decommissioned vessel through public auction was arranged through a Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC Ltd.)

In December, 2019, a public auction was held, but the same was cancelled, as the highest bid was not deemed sufficient.

The petitioners in the present case wanted to preserve INS Viraat as a memorial to promote and strengthen Indian and British Navy traditions, history and heritage and they approached various corporate houses to make the project a public private partnership.

It was proposed that the warship be converted into a Maritime Museum cum adventure centre. Union of India acknowledged receipt of the representation of the petitioners and directed the petitioners to resubmit the proposal, subsequently the first respondent sought a NOC from the Government of Goa.

Goa, however, said that a NOC could be issued provided the Ministry of Defence agreed to the proposal of the petitioners and no financial obligation

fell upon the State Government.

In the meantime fresh tenders were opened and the second respondent became the highest bidder.

By a mail dated 6.10.2020 the second respondent, without giving any guarantee, advised the petitioners to take a NOC from the Government of India with a direction to the associated departments of the Central and State Governments for taking the ship out of the yard and converting it into a Museum. It was also made clear that their agreement to the proposal was subject to two more conditions namely,

(i) that 100% payment should be made before 12th October, 2020 and

(ii) that the deadline for pulling the ship towards the ocean was 15th October, 2020.

The petitioners, however, could not comply with those conditions.

The Supreme Court hence took note of the following 3 aspects:

  1. The petitioners could not comply to the conditions stipulated by the Second respondent in the email dated 06.10.2020.
  2. Subsequent to the disposal of the writ petition by Order dated 3.11.2020, the Ministry of Defence passed an Order dated 27.11.2020 rejecting the representation of the petitioners. This order has not been challenged by petitioners.
  3. The dismantling/recycling work had already started three months ago and according to the certificate issued by the Marine Surveyors, about 35 to 40% work of dismantling had already been completed. The certificate of the surveyors shows that the vessel got severe hull damage in many areas, during embarkation of loose parts and equipments. All documents and certificates as well as the operational manuals have been removed and the navigational items and communications devices broken and removed. According to the surveyors, the vessel is in ‘grounded condition’ and can be called a dead structure.

The Court, hence, dismissed the SLP.

[ENVITECH MARINE CONSULTANTS PRIVATE LIMITED v. UNION OF INDIA, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 312, order dated 12.04.2021]


Appearances before the Court by

For Petitioners: Rupali Vishnukant Sharma,

For Union of India: Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh

For Second Respondent: Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan

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