Kolkata, There can be no denying the fact that in charting the course of transforming Indian Navy (IN) from its hitherto 'buyers' label to present-day 'builders' navy, warship construction in India has leap-frogged to a new realm altogether.
In that transformation, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Limited (GRSE), one of the four Indian shipbuilding Defence Public Sector Undertaking (PSU), ranks as the 'Best Performing Defence Shipyard' in the country since last few years.
Remarkably, GRSE is the first Indian shipbuilding company that has launched the first-ever export warship, an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) for the Government of Mauritius.
It has also completed successful sea trials of the first anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette for IN, which is expected to be commissioned soon. Besides, it has also recently launched first in the series of several Landing Craft Utility (LCU) ships it is building for our navy.
A Mini-Ratna Category-1 company since 2006, GRSE is among the profit making PSUs. Currently engaged with projects worth 10,000 Crore and credited with an 'Excellent' MoU rating for last three years, GRSE overhauled its turnover of 1,500 crore of previous fiscal by 100 in the fiscal that ended last month.
Founded in 1884 as 'River Steam Navigation Company' of England, the small ship-repair yard on the western bank of Hooghly transformed into a Joint Stock Company in 1934 renaming itself as 'Garden Reach Workshops' (GRW) deriving its 'Garden' nomenclature from the famous botanical garden on its opposite bank. The word 'Reach' means a stretch of land between two bends of a river.
The company was finally acquired by Government of India on April 19, 1960 and was placed under the Ministry of Defence. The company was rechristened 'Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Limited' on January 1, 1977.
The initial years of GRSE remained essentially marine repair work. By 1961, however, it proved its warship building capability by offering IN its first indigenously built ship, INS Ajay. The warship was later gifted to Bangladesh Navy in 1974 and was rechristened BNS Surma.
GRSE is also the only Indian shipyard to have built an oil tanker and hovercraft so far. It has also to its credit the proven design and delivery of a 'Landing Ship'. Although a marine repair work company, GRSE is also the largest manufacturer of portable or bailey bridges in India, an unheralded feat, much lesser feted.
More than 5,000 bailey bridges have so far been delivered to the Indian Army. It includes bridges at highest altitudes in the world. The bridges developed include double-lane bridges with enhanced load carrying capacity. GRSE has the capacity to build 43 single-lane and 26 double-lane bridges in a year.
Among its other users are Bhutan and Myanmar besides Public Works Department of various states and private firms. Now the states of Odisha and Jharkhand have also evinced interest in acquiring bailey bridges from GRSE.
In its early years, post its acquisition into the defence PSU fold, it also manufactured equipment such as level luffing wharf cranes, EOT (Electrical Overhead Travelling) cranes, road rollers, bailey bridges, mining machinery, turbine pumps, railway signalling equipment, package boilers, electric cargo winches, air compressors, aerial ropeways and even vitreous-enamelled sanitary ware among other things.
Today, capable of building 14 ships at any given time including both large and small ships, it has steadily modernised its infrastructure and yard capacity to not only building ships but also has enhanced its manufacturing capability of single and double-lane bridges.
In the first decade following its acquisition, GRW as it was then known was slowly but steadily making inroads into sturdier warship building projects. By 1969-70, GRW had also become the principal manufacturers of harbour crafts like tugs, dredgers, hopper barges and several other marine vessels for government and several Port Trusts.
By 1973-74, the company also delivered to the Indian Navy a superbly versatile 40-Ton, Bollard pull-tug INS Gaj, the biggest 'Ocean going Tug' of its time in Asia. In the subsequent decades a resurgent GRSE continued to be the bulwark of Indian shipbuilding industry hauling out 89 warships for the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard and nearly 700 vessels for a number of State Governments and Port Trusts.
GRSE, today, is manufacturing a wide range of high-tech modern warships and hovercraft including frigates, corvettes, ASW corvettes, landing ship tank, fleet replenishment tankers, LCU ships, survey vessels, water-jet fast attack craft and interceptor boats.
Among the deck machinery it manufactures include davits, winches, capstans, helicopter traversing systems for ship-borne applications and portable steel bridges for hilly areas, notably for Indian Army operations as also for rural road appliances. It also assembles high-value engineering items like diesel engines and its overhaul.
In recent years with its modernised yards and docks, GRSE is marshalling all its efforts towards achieving near 100 percent indigenisation in its future shipbuilding endeavours. The third ASW corvette in the series of the four P-28 corvettes being built for the IN has a remarkable 90 percent indigenised content, not unachieved by any defence shipyard in the country so far.
With a 20 percent growth over its previous fiscal values of production (VOP), from a turnover of 574 Cr in 2007-08, GRSE achieved a VOP of 1,600 Cr in 2013-14. With a healthy order of 25 warships in its kitty under five different projects, three from the Navy accounting for 16 ships, one from the coast guard for eight ships and an export order of an OPV for Mauritius, GRSE is only poised to steam further.
Owing to its recently-modernised main unit, GRSE will be able to undertake construction of large-size ships with modular construction concepts in a much shorter time-frame. GRSE long term plan includes creation of a 'Deep Sea Shipyard' in neighbouring Odisha.
With recognition for its achievements for new inventions in warship design, hello-traversing systems, double-lane portable steel bridges and marine pumps, GRSE continues to give top priority to and engages a lot in R&D. For the time being, however, despite a market existing for very large warships, GRSE intends sticking to building of frigates and destroyers that are the mainstay of IN.
With over 50 years of experience as a defence PSU, GRSE is fully geared to serve the maritime needs of our navy and coast guard and is integral to defence production and preparedness of our country that eventually translates into a self-reliant nation.
It is nigh impossible to miss the work ethos of its workforce that got GRSE the justifiable award of "Best performing Defence Shipyard in the Country" for the years 2012 and 2013.
Emblazoned everywhere in the GRSE workplace are three words -- Work is Warship -- that sums up the motto of its nearly 3,500 strong workforce set to build a self-reliant Indian Navy.
(As GRSE turns a new leaf on turning 54, on Saturday, April 19, 2014, a feature on the eve of their anniversary)
By Group Captain Tarun Kumar Singha VSM & Bar
Chief Public Relations Officer, Defence, Kolkata
Photos: Maj Sandesh Rokade and GRSE archives