New Delhi: The Indian Navy is looking into a contract awarded to Anil Ambani-led Reliance Naval and Engineering Ltd, navy chief Sunil Lanba said on Monday. The contract was for manufacturing five offshore patrol vessels, but following the delays in execution, the navy has encashed the bank guarantees given by the company.

The move comes against the backdrop of the firm facing flak from the opposition, including the Congress, over being chosen as the offset partner by Dassault Aviation in the 59,000 crore Rafale aircraft deal with the French government.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has given its approval for adding 56 ships and six submarines to the naval fleet over the next 10 years, Admiral Sunil Lanba said at a press conference in New Delhi, a day before Navy Day.

Permission to build a second indigenous aircraft carrier was also sought from the defence ministry, as it would give the Indian Navy the option to operate two carrier groups at all times and ensure sea control along critical lanes of trade and communication in the Indian Ocean, he added.

“There is no preferential treatment being given" to Reliance Naval, which is “undergoing corporate debt restructuring, and has been taken to court by their bankers, IDBI", Lanba said. “Bank guarantees have been encashed by the navy. Punitive action has been taken, and it is a process," he said. The contract for the Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels (NOPV) “has not been cancelled at the moment, but the contract is being looked at and being examined."

On the preparedness of the Indian Navy and combat readiness, Lanba said that “32 ships and submarines are presently under construction in Indian shipyards". These include India’s second aircraft carrier Vikrant, destroyers and stealth frigates, corvettes, off-shore patrol vessels and Scorpene class submarines.

India’s second aircraft carrier is “presently in its third and final phase of construction at Kochi". “Sea trials for the ship are expected to commence in mid-2020 and we are closely working with all stakeholders to achieve the delivery timelines."

“The induction of Vikrant will provide significant fillip to the navy’s blue water capability, increasing the reach and impact of carrier borne strike forces, both as a means of deterrence as well as during combat operations," he said.

“The carrier’s substantial integral air power with rapid mobility will be a force multiplier, giving India enhanced combat power to protect its maritime interests and sea lines of communication. To achieve this, we should have the capability of operating two Carrier Battle Groups round the year," the navy chief said.

Lanba made a case for a third aircraft carrier, the second to be constructed indigenously, by saying it “would accrue significant national gains in terms of boosting indigenization and the country’s economy, through its life cycle of construction, maintenance and upgradation".

The third aircraft carrier is important as it “gives us two carrier battle groups available at any given time," he said, adding that construction of the 65,000-tonne vessel was expected to start within three years.

Reliance Group companies have sued HT Media Ltd, Mint’s publisher, and nine others in the Bombay high court over a 2 October 2014 front-page story that they have disputed. HT Media is contesting the case.

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