After sitting on the security agencies’ demand for 150 patrolling ships for coastal security for more than five years, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) last week scrapped the global tender that it had given out for purchasing these boats. These boats are seen as crucial for India’s maritime security preparedness, which was exposed in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The demand for the boats had come after the Mumbai attacks.
The global tender for buying 150 coastal security boats for more than Rs 400 crore, was floated by the MHA in March 2011. At least seven companies including Ashok Leyland, Goa Shipyard limited and Abu Dhabi Ship building (ADSB), with which the MHA subsequently had a price discussion on August 2015, applied for the tender, which was opened on 20 June 2012. The fact that ADSB was going to use state-of-the-art, vacuum-infusion technology in its boats, which increases the lives of the boats substantially, something that the Indian yards were not using, tilted the tender in its favour.
Official sources said that the deal was almost finalised with Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB), which was confirmed to the company by the MHA on 29 October 2015, when the ministry asked the company to extend the price validity until 31 December 2015 in view of the recent development in strategic partnership between India and UAE, which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the country in August 2015.
However, the deal was scrapped last week, with official sources saying that the Indian companies along with officials of the public shipyards, whose specifications failed to meet the standards given in the global tender, prevailed upon the government to scrap the deal.
“The fact that the officials of the public shipyard were upset with a foreign company getting the tender was conveyed to the MHA and other officials on a regular basis. They had clearly told the government that it should either nominate the public sector shipyards for these boats or allow only Indian companies, including private players. This pressure was mounted during the time of the UPA-II government, when the tenders were first opened and continued until the time it was finally scrapped by the present government”, an official source said. Clearly, there is a new push for indigenous capability that was absent in the past.
These 150 boats were being procured under the Coastal Security Scheme Phase-II to be distributed among nine coastal states—Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Odisha and West Bengal, and four union territories. They were expected to begin patrolling exercise by April 2016. If fresh tenders are issued now and executed immediately, the first of the new boats will hit the water in 2020-21.