First, upfront, here is the hard news. India is not going to invoke the warranty clause with regard to the INS Sindhurakshak, the Russian-built diesel-electric submarine which sunk after multiple explosions and a ravaging fire at the Mumbai naval dockyard on 14 August this year, a key Indian official familiar with the issue told this writer on condition of anonymity.
In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had substantive talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed ways to further deepen the Indo-Russian cooperation in the defence arena at the just concluded the 14th Indo-Russian annual summit in Moscow. The INS Sindhurakshak episode came up for discussions at the summit.
There is a circumstantial evidence for this. Had Indians been interested in invoking the warranty clause in the Sindhurakshak contract, they would have given the first right of entry to the Russians to access the sunken submarine for conducting forensic investigations to determine the causes of the disaster. They have not done that.
In fact, more than two months have gone by and Russians have not been allowed to access the boat despite Moscow's offer of help within hours of the Indian Navy’s biggest peacetime disaster taking place. What's more, the Russians are not going to be given access to Sindurakshak anytime soon, informed sources in the Indian military establishment said. In all probability, they will be roped in only after the Indian investigations are completed.
In any case, the boat is still lying in the deep waters of the Arabian Sea and it won’t be before February or even later that India, with the help of international expert salvagers, brings the boat ashore.
Even if assuming that the vessel is salvaged before the Russian warranty expires in January 2014, there is no way that the Russians could be slapped with a notice to fulfill its contractual obligations and pay up for the damages. There are several technical arguments tinged with legal overtones, an informed source close to the Indian military establishment told this writer.
One, if Russians are to be told to pay up for the accident, India has to have credible reasons that triggered the incident – whether it was sabotage or human error or some technical flaws. In the first two scenarios, the Russians cannot be held responsible. If the accident took place because of technical flaws in the submarine’s weapons or charging systems or anything that the Russians dealt with then only they can be proceeded against for demanding compensation.
But then to do this, the Russians have to be the first ones to board the damaged boat or else they can easily claim that since they were not given access to the vessel the Indian forensic investigations can hardly be trusted.
The second reason for India not invoking the warranty clause is diplomatic and political. True, India ended up spending over a billion dollars on INS Sindhurakshak — first for purchase and then for an expensive mid-life upgrade — it is petty amount when one considers the extremely close political ties between the two sides.
Invoking a warranty clause will tantamount to an unfriendly gesture and in any case the Russians are going to contest it tooth and nail. To top it all, all that can happen only when the boat is salvaged and technical and forensic examinations are completed. This has not happened and is unlikely to happen in near future. So why take this cantankerous approach in the first place? This seems to be the Indian thinking.
India has been having close defence relations with Russia for over half a century and there is not one single instance when India has sought to put Russia in the dock for Moscow’s perceived sins of omission and commission. The latest case pertains to the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov/INS Vikramaditya which is finally going to handed over to Indian Defence Minister AK Antony in Russia on 16 November.
The Russians have missed over a dozen deadlines for delivering Vikramaditya to India. If India wanted it could invoke the penalty clause as per the contract and ask the Russians to pay for being late on delivery. But the Indians never exercised that option, though the price of the aircraft carrier grew manifold as a result of the delays on part of the Russians.
In a nutshell, the Indian strategy is to resolve all issues pertaining to Sindhurakshak in a friendly and amiable manner in the larger and long-term political interests. Invoking the warranty clause in the case of the Sindhurakshak disaster will only draw bad blood and spoil the Indo-Russian bonhomie.
The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst whose Twitter handle is @Kishkindha.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2013 20:37 PM