Monday, 17 October 2011

New warship projects stalled by MoD’s JV freeze

The new modular yard being constructed at Mazagon Dock, Mumbai. Built in partnership with Fincantieri, its completion next year will mark MDL's transition from old-style construction methods

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 11

Planning has stalled for building new indigenous warships for the Indian Navy. This after Defence Minister AK Antony, rattled by protests from private shipbuilders, scuttled a proposed JV on 26th Sept between public sector shipbuilder, Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and the private Dahej-based Pipavav Shipyard; and announced a freeze on warship building JVs until a formal policy was formulated.

That effectively places all new warship projects on hold. Senior MoD officials point out that, with defence shipyard capacities already filled by ongoing warship projects, JVs were intended to create fresh capacities by coupling the public defence shipyards’ expertise and experience, with the large unutilised capacities of India’s new private-sector warship bulders. But with these JVs now on hold, at least until a new policy is finalised, no Indian shipyard has both the capacity and expertise to build a new line of warships.

“We cannot just hand over a contract to build major capital warships to a private shipbuilder with no track record; there are tens of thousands of crore rupees at stake in such projects, and potentially years of delay. Nor can we give any more contracts to public sector shipyards; their order books are full for years to come. Until we finalise the new JV policy, any new warship project will go by default to a foreign builder,” a top MoD official told Business Standard.

Stuck in the pipeline are at least two major warship projects: Project 15B, which involves building four 6,800 tonne destroyers for Rs 29,325 crore; and Project 75I for building six conventional attack submarines for an estimated Rs 20,000 crore. Also potentially threatened is Project 17A for building seven stealth frigates.

Nor is the government clear about who will formulate the new policy on warship building JVs. While the public sector defence shipyards are owned by the MoD, the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Heavy Industry also have jurisdiction over the private shipyards.

At the heart of this logjam is the government’s decision last year to speed up warship construction through public-private partnership. When the MoD was processing the financial sanction last year for MDL to build four destroyers under Project 15B, the Finance Ministry (MoF) objected. Commenting on the draft note being prepared for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the MoF noted MDL’s time and cost overruns on all its recent projects and pointed out that the same was likely to happen in Project 15B.

A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit report in March pointed to MDL’s delays of 4-5 years in constructing the first ship of various projects. The CAG report also highlighted a cost overrun of 226% on Project 15A, the predecessor to Project 15B, for which sanction was being processed.

The MoF, therefore, suggested that an overloaded MDL adopts the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model for building Project 15B. The risk of delay, the MoF opined, could be minimised by co-opting a suitable private sector shipyard with idle warship building capacity. MDL, it was suggested, should select a private shipyard and form a JV that could build Project 15B.

This was an unpalatable suggestion for the MoD’s Department of Defence Production (DDP), which oversees the MoD’s four public sector shipyards --- besides MDL, there is Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the recently acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL). The PPP model meant sharing profits with a private sector shipyard. But rather than turn down the MoF’s recommendations and risk having it oppose the sanction of Project 15B in the CCS, it was decided to cater for the MoF’s concerns. In late 2010, the MoD’s acquisitions head instructed MDL to select a suitable private sector shipyard as a JV partner.

Accordingly, MDL approached a range of private shipyards for Expressions of Interest (EoI) “for synergising efforts of MDL in shipbuilding”. It asked shipyards for “a business plan and a joint collaborative strategy to meet challenging timelines in order to liquidate the order book of MDL.” This was published in major national dailies in March. In a follow-up letter (PRO/3001/2011-12/26 dated 11th May 11), MDL asked for EoIs to be submitted by 31st May 11. Candidates were invited to visit MDL “to gain first hand appraisal of the infrastructure, processes and procedures of the Yard.”

Eventually, after an MDL team visited private sector candidate shipyards to evaluate their strengths and capabilities, a short list was drawn up of four shipyards: Larsen & Toubro; ABG Shipyard; Pipavav Shipyard; and Bharati Shipyard. Final presentations were made to MDL’s board on 23rd August, with shipyards presenting their joint collaborative strategy. Two days later, MDL asked for more details but, on 9th Sept 2011, before those could be presented, MDL selected Pipavav Shipyard as its JV partner.

The resulting flurry of protests from the other three private shipyards triggered the defence minister’s personal decision to set aside this selection until a policy on JVs was formulated.

MoD and MDL sources strongly defend Pipavav’s selection, arguing that its location and facilities make it a shoo-in as MDL’s partner. Says a top official who was intimately involved in the decision-making, “Pipavav Shipyard met MDL’s strategic requirements: it is located on the west coast, close to MDL; it possesses a dry dock for constructing large warships, which matches MDL’s method of building in a dry dock. In any re-evaluation, Pipavav will emerge the natural choice.”

Business Standard has learned that Pipavav’s bid was also the most aggressive. Contemplating a JV with a paid up capital of Rs 50 crore, Pipavav volunteered to contribute Rs 49 crore, with MDL contributing Rs 1 crore. On the board, however, there would be equal representation and MDL would have the effective right to nominate the chairman.


Santosh said...

You can rest assured that Defence Minister Antony will sit on his fat dhoti-clad ass and not take any action to resolve the public-private JV issue.

Anonymous said...

It's pathetic step from the defense minister and defense ministry that cannot allow the ships to be build in India but has no shame in importing it again and again from abroad. The Government must stop this loser attitude and formulate immediate steps to ensure Govt-Private partnerships, so that the ship building is not hit when the Navy requires it the most. Also the Private shipyards must stop acting like crabs in a basket trying to pull down each other into the basket. No one will escape and no one will gain from such attitude. It's time to think positive and try to grab as much as you can get to build. Otherwise you'll all end up with nothing and India will keep importing ships. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

One more solution exists for private shipyards, you form JV's between yourselves in the area of defense shipbuilding. Let there be a single body that unifies all the defence shipbuilders in India. Then partner with all govt shipyards and start to build ships. It benefits all including the nation. It's time to show solidarity rather than infighting for national cause.

Anonymous said...

MoF and Raksha Mantri is right. In this case MDL messed it up by acting in a rash manner.

Anonymous said...

MDL Management... and the whole lot has taken... fat cut... to sit on their fat arses... did you get... part of it???...

Anonymous said...

Indian armed forces always accept weapon's build by foreign private company so what problem the have with indian private ship yard....

Anonymous said...

Ship building involves huge infra and big money will be at stake. Just by signing up with pipavav, do you expect L&T and ABG to sit idle and driving away flies? Is this privatization of Indian defence industry ?BakWAAs!!!

Anonymous said...

on the other hand..had the JV been allowed to continue...AK would have been accused of
a)at the very least not having made MDL follow procedure by asking it to wait until the details it asked for came before making the decision
b)taking a bribe to let the decision stand

annonymous said...

L & T has no shipyard ready, ABG's dry dock is the size of a match box .... go figure