India’s Unresolved Coastal Quandary

Use of technology and multi-agency coordination is the way ahead for safer coasts

Aditya Kakkar

SPEXER 2000MA radar
SPEXER 2000MA radar

New Delhi: India’s littoral security has remained a huge concern post the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Even though major steps have been taken by the government to secure the country’s colossal coast of 7,516 kilometres, yawning gaps still remain. The coastline touches 13 states and Union Territories and there are about 1,197 islands. So, to secure this vast coastline, a new proposal has been mooted to have a new force which exclusively guards India’s coast.

According to the home ministry, the force would be under the control of the central government and called Coastal Border Police Force. “The proposal to raise the new force was discussed at a meeting called for review of all issues of all central paramilitary forces,” a home ministry spokesman said on August 3. At present, the Indian Navy is responsible for maritime security while the Coast Guard secures territorial waters. The aim is to not just secure the coastline but also vital installations such as oils rigs and atomic power stations. A case in point, the Kalpakkam atomic power station in Tamil Nadu.

Since the Mumbai attack, India has installed a chain of coastal radars, automatic identification systems and created a National Command and Control Communications Intelligence Network (NC3IN). There has been a talk of co-opting local fishermen for intelligence purposes but the community has been reluctant to even allow transponders on their trawlers, lest they be tracked at all times. Even the Indian Coast Guard has admitted its helplessness in gaining the complete trust of the fishing community for a variety of reasons. Thus, any talk of raising a central force will be incomplete without state jurisdictional powers and understanding of local ethos. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has already found sufficient loopholes in the patrolling around Odisha and Maharashtra coast.

The nature of patrolling also differs for each agency. For the Indian Navy, large scale exercises with cooperating navies is seen as a measure of success along with operational successes of Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) and further development of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). For the Indian Coast Guard, it is the attempt to contain threats of both terror and smuggling. The apex marine body, National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS), is simply a temporary arrangement, as the coastal security bill with a proposal to form a National Maritime Authority (NMA) is caught in limbo. The government has sought to make amends by approving Rs 31,748 crore, five-year planned outlay for the Coast Guard. The plan envisages large-scale purchase of offshore patrol vessels, boats, helicopters, aircraft and development of critical operational infrastructure.

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