The average utilisation of the vessel in a year was just five days between 2014-15 & 2020-21
The Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE) spent Rs 10.18 crore on repair of a vessel, which had lived its life but still deprived students of research and training activities in high sea conditions as part of their course, revealed an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
The audit report released December 23, 2022 pointed out that the vessel remained unutilised to a significant extent in the last seven years. The average utilisation of the vessel in a year was just five days between 2014-15 and 2020-21 as against the mandated 45 days, primarily due to shortage of staff.
As against the 43 posts sanctioned, only 21 staff, including five permanent staff, were deployed in the vessel since 2016.
The vessel, which was built in 1980, had an expected useful life of 30 years which was over in 2010. But despite the useful life being over and it provided limited functionality, CIFE incurred an expenditure of Rs 10.18 crore on dry docking, repairs, maintenance as well as salaries and wages during 2014-15 to 2020-21.
CIFE is a deemed university that provides postgraduate and doctoral-level education in the field of fisheries and agriculture. The Institute procured a ship — MFV Saraswati (vessel) — in 1982 valuing Rs 3.60 crore for research and training of the students admitted in CIFE.
Audit examination between May 2017 and September 2019 disclosed that the vessel was utilised only as a floating laboratory for coastal sea exposure to students for purposes like learning about the functioning of different equipment like echo sounder, sonar, safety devices and navigational map in the vessel as part of their course.
“The vessel was not utilised for exposure to high sea conditions and fishing operations in deep water, which was a part of the course requirements,” said the report.
Although the vessel was lying underutilised / unutilised for a long period, CIFE made no effort to ascertain whether it was financially viable to maintain a vessel that has crossed its useful life and was also providing limited functionality.
After the matter was pointed out by an audit in May 2017, a committee was constituted in September 2019 and reconstituted in February 2021 to examine the proposal for decommissioning the vessel. Based on the suggestions of the committee, the board of management of the institute, while considering age, non-availability of spare parts, non-availability of permanent staff on board, least output of the vessel, recurring expenditure on maintenance, dry-docking and repairs, recommended the decommissioning of the vessel in June 2021.
However, the vessel was yet to be decommissioned as of December 2021.
The CAG report said:
Thus, despite an expenditure of Rs 10.18 crore, the students of CIFE were deprived of research and training activities in high sea conditions and fishing operations in deep water. The vessel also remained underutilised / unutilised for long periods of time, although funds were expended on repairs and maintenance.
In September 2019, CIFE stated that the skipper of the ship had died in 2011 and the chief engineer retired in 2014. No recruitment to these posts had been done since then.
Due to the stationary position of the ship, the students were exposed only to shallow water and missed the deep-water exposure and half of the semester experience, it said. “No new research activities could also be planned due to unpredictable layoff of the vessel due to shortage of manpower, maintenance and funds.”
The report concluded that CIFE failed to exercise due diligence by not evaluating the cost of maintaining the vessel vis-à-vis the delivery of limited objectives by the vessel. “This not only impacted the students’ learning experience but also resulted in unproductive expenditure.”
It recommended that after decommissioning of the present vessel, CIFE should carry out a cost-benefit analysis of owning vessels vis-à-vis hiring vessels based on requirements, without compromising the students' learning.
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