Indian ship building set to recover lost glory?
Resilient ship building brings hope of its revival and escalated growth
India’s tryst with American history can be traced back to the role Indian ship building played in the creation of the U.S. National Anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The lyrics came from “Defence of Fort McHenry”, a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key when aboard the Minden, a vessel that was built in India. This vessel, Minden, was built of teak by Jamshedji Bomanji Wadia and launched in 1810 from the Duncan Docks in Bombay (now Mumbai), India.
Because of this exquisite ship building facility at that time, Bombay became a strategic port for the British colonial undertakings in Asia and Minden providing the first and only British ship of the line built out of the limits of the Mother Country until then. The Royal Navy came to admire the skill of its architects, for the superiority of its timber, and for the excellence of its docks, giving Bombay a distinguished place among naval arsenals”.
From time immemorial ship building activity in India has been known for its splendid quality. Through the ages this industry continued to enjoy its heydays even until a century back. In fact, from ancient times India’s prowess as a ship builder went unchallenged.
The name Lothal stands out as the oldest Indian known dock in the world that existed during the Bronze Age (from 3300 to 1200 BC). The Iron Age (1500 to 500 BC) saw Rig Veda ships commanding a lot of respect among the contemporary seafaring nations. In 326 BC, during the Nanda Period, Alexander the Great acquired his large boats that were built in Punjab by a tribe. The dominance of ship building activity continued through the ages that in 20 B.C. during the Pandya Dynasty Indian ship builders came to be known for their rich knowledge and expertise of metallurgy. The bolts used in ship building were of Muntz alloy (60% Copper and 40% Zinc) and the workmen were skillful in working with other copper alloys such as brass and bronze.
Throughout recorded history the world-wide recognition for India’s ship building panache was acknowledged and responsible for various naval powers to source their requirement of ships from the different shipyards of India. The invading forces of the past two millennium which establish their empires in the country also did not so much as venture out to establish a maritime power which could have benefitted Indian shipping Yet ship building did make a big hit as is well known.
Amongst the various manufacturing industries, the Indian government considers shipbuilding industry to have the highest investment and employment multiplier effect says Cdr. S Navaneetha Krishnan of the Indian Navy. In his well referred book “Prosperous Nation Building through Shipbuilding”, published recently he brings out the resilience and potentiality of the present state of the industry.”
Representing a mere 1.3% of the global ship building share, India’s present strength include about 10 government owned ship yards and around 50 in the private sector. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global competitiveness Index (GCI) few years ago, India continued to score well in indicator related to innovation and sophistication of firm operation as well as in the adoption of technologies from abroad. However, as a result of the down turn the efforts to reduce the high budget deficit remained a big challenge.
Considering ship building to be the biggest force multiplier for the economy, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has indentified ship building sector to be the vehicle for creating employment and wealth for the country. He said, “Amongst the manufacturing industries the ship building industry has been identified to have the highest investment and employment multiplier effect.”
In the recent national budget the government of India after several years made a beginning - giving a minor sop to the ship building industry by exempting ship builders from payment of excise duty which is of around 5 per cent.
Cdr Krishnan states in his book that the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020, the government proposes giving a boost to Indian ship building in order to achieve a global market share of 5 per cent by 2020. It also aspires to develop a strong ancillary base in the country. Additional it plans to generate 2.5 million jobs in ship building industry alone and to develop a strong Research and Development facilities and design capabilities for commercial ship building.
A rewarding exercise to resolve various problems could be to involve ship building professionals in the ship building policy making. Throw open sourcing of the Indian defense requirements to the Indian manufacturers instead the current practice of sourcing most of the naval needs from amongst foreign manufacturers. Private sector companies should be involved in warship bulding.