India’s plans to acquire a ₹ 1,000-crore polar research vehicle (PRV) — a ship that can cut through ice sheets and glaciers — may see fresh delays. Though a Spanish ship-building company was roped in, in early 2015, the contract fell through, primarily due to escalated costs. The new ‘Make in India’ policy gives Indian companies an edge in baggingthese contracts, which are open to international and local bidders.
This concession allows an Indian company, which may have lost out to a foreign company in the final bidding stage on price, to match the latter’s lower, winning bid and bag the contract.
Multiple sources, privy to the PRV procurement process, told The Hindu that Indian ship companies are not experienced in building PRVs. “There are very few companies in the world with such expertise. Insisting on Indian companies for the sake of it may mean longer delays,” said a person familiar with the process.
New tender soon
A fresh, global tender incorporating these changes will likely be floated later this year. The government had authorised the Goa-based National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), a facility that comes under the Earth Sciences Ministry, to acquire a Polar Research Vehicle (PRV) in 2014. According to a March 2015 press statement by the Cabinet approving ₹ 1,050 crore for the purpose, a PRV was necessary to meet “…the growing need of the scientific community to initiate studies in ocean sciences, (ii) the uncertainty in the charter-hire of polar vessels and the ever-escalating chartering costs, and (iii) the expansion of scientific activities into the Arctic and Southern Ocean (the seas surrounding Antarctica).”
“An Indian company can also partner with a foreign company for the bidding… once awarded, we expect the ship to be ready within three years,” said Madhavan Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences.
Crucial to nation’s goals
The ‘ice-breaker,’ as these ships are colloquially called, can cut through a 1.5-metre thick wall of ice. With a lifespan of 30 years, the ship is expected to be central to India’s ambitions in the Arctic and Antarctica in coming years. India has announced plans to rebuild Maitri, its research station in Antarctica, and make it impervious to its harsh environment for at least 25 years.
Though the plans to procure a ship were laid out in 2011, there have since been design changes and disagreements with the Spain-based company, which had won the tender on the final costs. “These led to the delay at that time,” said Shailesh Nayak, former MoES Secretary.