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SOURCE: NDTV

”Pay me ? 100 crore, and take away the ship.” That’s the final offer of Mukesh Patel, the chairman and managing director of Gujarat-based Shree Ram Group, the company that won the bid to buy the decommissioned Indian Navy carrier, Viraat, to break-up for scrap.

Though the Viraat was towed to Alang in Gujarat last week, she has still not been fully beached, a process that can happen in ideal high-tide conditions after which she will be stripped, broken down, and her metal sold for scrap, an inglorious end for a warship that came to define Indian maritime power across the Indian Ocean region for three decades.

Mr Patel is clear, the highest bidder can take ownership of the vessel, but there are some conditions. ”I am a desh-bhakt (patriot)” says Mr Patel.

”I bought the ship to give it some atma shanti (peace to the soul).” But he will transfer the ship only if he does not find himself in any litigation which may ensue from a potential sale.

”I brought down my price from ? 125 crore to 100 crore because I am a desh-bhakt,” reiterates Mr Patel. ”I will transfer it to anyone who comes with a No Objection Certificate from the government and is willing to relocate the ship at their own expense.”

Now, with less than a month before she is pulled to the beach (more likely 15 days), there are at least two bidders who have expressed an interest in acquiring the warship and converting her into a maritime museum.

The most concerted effort comes from Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based company which is working in partnership with the government of Goa.

The company which provides end-to-end marine solutions has reached out to Mr Patel and had submitted a detailed project report to the Ministry of Defence two months ago.

Despite the firm support of Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, the project proposal has not moved within the Ministry of Defence.

”The bureaucracy is the problem at the moment,” says Rupali Sharma, Managing Partner of Envitech. “We hope that this is resolved because time is running out.”

She says the Indian Navy, which operated the warship from 1987 to 2017, is entirely in favour of converting the warship into a museum to preserve its legacy.

NDTV has reached to the Defence Ministry for comment and will update their reaction to this story if they choose to react.

The project itself is anticipated to cost ? 500 crore and the aircraft carrier, which would be moored along the Zuari river in Goa, would operate on a Build-Operate-Transfer model in conjuction with the Goa government.

This is not the first proposal to have been considered by the government to convert the Viraat into a museum. An earlier proposal to locate the ship off the Maharashtra coast was rejected on technical grounds. Ms Sharma says the maritime conditions in Goa are more favourable to support the creation of the Viraat maritime museum.

With its fleet of Sea Harrier jump-jets, the INS Viraat was India’s only operational aircraft carrier after the navy’s first aircraft carrier, the Vikrant, was decommissioned in 1997.

The Viraat’s Sea Harrier fighters provided air defence to the fleet when required. She was acquired from the United Kingdom after an extensive refit in 1986 prior to which she served as HMS Hermes, the aircraft carrier that led the Royal Navy to victory in the 1982 Falklands Islands conflict.