River Princess saga continues to be stretched. This time around the issue is the scrap. GoaChronicle.com has learnt through its investigation that at the Centre of this status quo and uncertainty is the vested interest of politicians keen on considerable kick-backs and also raises a question as to the reason behind the Chief Minister’s insistence on sticking with Arihant Ship Breakers…
Somewhere in the year 2000, the River Princess had hit Sinquerim-Candolim shore due to rough weather. Several attempts to tow away the ship had failed, finally forcing the State Government to allow its cutting. After spending almost 12 years on the shore, the ship has gone eight meters deep underwater in the sand.
Arihant Ship Breakers (ASB) – a Mumbai based company won the contract to remove River Princess. Its prime job was to dismantle the ship and carry away the scrap. The entire value of the contract awarded to ASB is believed to be valued at Rs 99 crore and since Arihant was to be also responsible for buying the scrap from the government; an agreed rate was fixed to tune of Rs 12.70 crore (at Rs 12.70 per kilogram) which would be deducted from the estimated value in the contract of ASB; there by coming at a cost to the government of Rs 83.20 crore for the removal of River Princess.
The process of the dismantling of the ship had already commenced, however, the removal of the scrap has reached a stalemate as the government has not been able to reach a decision on the scrap price; this is namely because of the unexpected turn of events that took place at the recently concluded Goa assembly session with regards to the River Princess removal. Aldona MLA Dayanand Narvekar in his Call to Attention request raised the issue of the scrap being held at the Britona Jetty and; about the inconvenience and grievance caused to the locals. In his reply to the question raised, Nilkanth Halarnkar, minister for tourism, Government of Goa stated in the house that the Department of Tourism has not been able to finalize on the price per kilogram of scrap, since it has received an offer from a Margao-based supplier of Rs 17 per kilogram.
In a view of getting a legal opinion on this issue the Chief Minister Digambar Kamat forward the matter to the Advocate General Subodh Kantak and Ex-Advocate General Atmaram Nadkarni who were to also draft the contract between Goa government and Arihant Ship Breakers. The Ex-Advocate General was of the opinion that if the government getting a better rate than the existing one from ASB, it would be better for the government to either have an open auction or invite new tenders for the scrap removal. Our sources indicate that on this issue even the Tourism Minister Nilkanth Halarnkar was of the same opinion to either give it to the highest bidder which had approached the tourism department; or if not have an open auction or invite new tenders for the same.
Meanwhile, ASB through its close connection in the government decide to not change its price for the scrap from Rs 12.50 per kilogram; Margao-based scrap dealer increasing his price bandwidth to Rs 19 and finally Rs 20 per kilogram. The recent offer made by the Margao-based scrap dealer will help the government save over Rs 10 crore of the previous estimated project cost. Yet it seems that there is a pensive wait from the government quarters in particular the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary. Even though yesterday, the director of tourism, Department of Tourism, Swapnil Naik said that the deadlock has been broken and will be awarding the job to ASB at Rs 12.50 per kilogram.
In fact highly placed sources in the tourism department have informed us that the tourism minister is reluctant to sign off on the documents confirming ASB for its job role in light of the current imbroglio; so much so that the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary have signed off on an document pushing towards ensuring that ASB gets the contract in totality; without the approval of the tourism minister as it would be mandatory in this case. GoaChronicle.com is in possession of this document.
The sole contention of the imbroglio is who will milk the cow; in this case the River Princess. Our sources reveal that Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, Chief Secretary Sanjay Srivastava and Calangute MLA Agnelo Fernandes are expected to make a windfall in kickbacks to the tune of Rs 16 crore, which is expected to be shared between each on the nature of the work. The tourism minister was initially a part of this charade; but somewhere in the deal either one of the sides got greedier or Halarnkar got the wrong end of the stick, so he decided to work on his own numbers in order not to be left out of the shenanigans of the kick-backs from River Princess, which is why the emergence of the new scrap removal company, now leading to a survival of the fittest in this scheme of things. The CM and Chief Secretary is to bring this issue to a Cabinet meeting, which eventually lead to the deal going to ASB for Rs 12.50 per kilogram.
As of today Halarnkar refuses to sign on any documents or contracts with ASB, leaving the onus now on the Chief Minister; which in turn clearly means that till today even though ASB has bagged the tender for the dismantling and removal of River Princess there is no official contract between the government of Goa and ASB. Also what is interesting to note the escalating cost of this removal; about three years ago this entire project had an offer of close to 45 crore; even if we take an escalation cost, it would quite questionable to know now that the project cost from the removal of River Princess is now pegged at Rs 99 crore.
And in the penny fighting of the politicians the most important question is whether the River Princess saga will finally die or will it continue to be grounded in our government record books to come out someday as money grab on ship scrap.