New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear on Friday a plea of the Centre seeking modification of an earlier order virtually stopping the dismantling process of India`s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant decommissioned in 1997.
The Ministry of Defence has sought an urgent hearing of its fresh plea for modification of the May 5 order on the ground that the aircraft carrier has been incurring huge cost in its repairs and maintenance, besides occupying crucial berth for other serving vessels at the Naval dockyard at Mumbai.
"We are not sitting in the vacation to modify the earlier orders," the bench of justices B S Chauhan and A K Sikri said when Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra, appearing for the Defence ministry, mentioned the case.
"At least, the decommissioned vessel be allowed to be taken out so that the harbour is cleared," the ASG said.
The bench then posted the plea for hearing tomorrow.
The aircraft career was built in England well before the end of World War-II and the Indian Navy had bought it in 1957 and was decommissioned in 1997.
INS Vikrant had played a key role during the Bangladesh liberation war.
Earlier, an apex court bench headed by Justice K S Radhakrishnan, since retired, had ordered status quo on dismantling of the ship and sought responses from the Defence Ministry and others.
The order had come on a plea of Kiran Paigankar who has challenged the Bombay High Court decision rejecting her PIL to preserve INS Vikrant by converting it into a maritime museum.
The plea said Indian Navy, in April this year, sold `INS Vikrant` to the highest bidder, a Mumbai-based shipbreaking company IB Commercial, for Rs 63 crore, much above its reserve bid of Rs 3 crore.
As per the deal, the ship is to be pulled down and the firm is free to sell its parts as lucrative scraps.
The ship`s last day at the berth of Mumbai coast is May 18 while the firm has planned to shift it to shipbreaking yard on May 16.
Maharashtra government had, in the Bombay High Court, said converting the ship as a maritime museum was not economically viable as it would incur a huge expenditure on maintenance and repairs.
The Centre said the ship has outlived its utility and keeping it in the dockyard would not only block other functional vessels but will be dangerous for visitors.
The PIL had also sought quashing of the tender issued by the Defence Ministry inviting bids for converting the ship into scrap.
"INS Vikrant has remarkably contributed in a historical victory of India over Pakistan in 1971 and it should not be scrapped," the petition said.
The Defence Ministry had filed an affidavit in the High Court saying "INS Vikrant`s hull is over 70 years old. It was decommissioned on completion of its operational life. Retention of the decommissioned ship in its present state is adversely affecting national security and operational preparedness."
"At a certain stage, ships can no longer be economically refurbished or repaired. Maintenance and berthing of such ships require heavy expenditure of public funds," the affidavit had said.
The union ministry in its affidavit also said the Indian Navy has been actively involved in preserving and maintaining `INS Vikrant` until now.