Centre's Cost-cutting Slows down MoES 'Icebreaker' Project
Even though prohibitive costs are rarely a concern when ministers travel abroad or when pet projects such as UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s Food Security Bill is implemented, the Centre is now cutting corners in crucial scientific projects citing a shortage of funds. Coupled with this, the bureaucratic delay will ensure that a project is in for the long-haul.
The country’s red tape might just give China a huge lead over it in the Polar region. Citing an ‘icebreaker’ acquisition as too expensive due to the new dollar exchange rate, the Union Cabinet has now asked the Ministry of Earth Sciences to rework the entire proposal to match the new budget.
An ‘icebreaker’ is a special purpose ship designed to move and navigate through the ice-covered waters. Acquiring one would help India explore the mineral rich area and carry out scientific experiments. As of now, India hires cargo vessels for transporting its scientists in the region. China already has two research vessels in the Polar region and the Ministry had drawn up a proposal to acquire one costing around `800 crore.
“We have got an approval from the Cabinet for acquiring the ‘icebreaker’ at a budget of `800 crore. But now with a major change in the dollar exchange rate, it is turning out to be very expensive for us.
“When we had prepared the plan (in April 2012) the dollar exchange rate was somewhere at `42-43 but now it is `62-63, which makes a huge difference,” said a senior Ministry official.
The Ministry is now reworking the proposal and it would take another 18 months to finalise the specifications, logistics and labs that are needed on the vessel. Then the proposal would be resent to the Cabinet for its final approval. The official said the process of acquiring clearances in India is slow compared to China.
China has been slowly increasing its presence in the Polar region eyeing shorter shipping routes to the US and Europe, one of its important markets.
India also has business interests related to oil, gas and mineral resources in the planet’s far North but the delay in acquiring the ‘icebreaker’ would set back by over two to three years,the country’s plan to explore the region.