Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan – Maritime and coastal Security of India
With a vast coastline of about 7600 kilometres, island territories on both sides of the peninsula are sizeable Exclusive Economic Zone and sea borne trade, the greater part of which moves by ship; there are many strands to India’s composite maritime security including the safety of major ports plus aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines at strategic levels. India’s maritime vulnerability came into sharp focus in November 2008 when Mumbai was the target of an audacious terrorist attack and many lessons were learnt in that tragic experience.
- There have been considerable improvements since the Mumbai attack in the coastal security of India. Both capacity and capability has been built across all the maritime forces especially in the navy and coastguard. There has also been a structured attempt to improve coordination between these forces.
- There are some areas where still India needs to work on primarily in the field of intelligence, coordination among intelligence agencies and in setting up a structure i.e. a National Apex Maritime Authority which would help to coordinate policy and to ensure that there is no duplication of effort and iron out all the differences which do come up. Coastal security involves a host of organizations and departments of Government of India and it is not an easy task to coordinate policy among these organizations.
- The seas are porous. There are no roads or indicators and therefore, the entry to a port is porous. The port security has improved with the use of biometric systems at entrance of naval dockyards. There is a much larger awareness in State Governments post 2008 and in state police forces.
- As far as marine police is concerned, it came into being after the Coastal Security Scheme was introduced in 2005-06. The performance of the marine police in those states which have adequately invested in maritime security has improved in a significant way like Tamil Nadu. However, there are some states which do not think there is any kind of threat from the sea and have kind of neglected the issue such as West Bengal. The marine police have very important functions but they are in the domain of legal sector plus in patrolling the coast next to the sea. In these areas, the coastguard is more than adequate for patrolling and surveillance.
- The maritime zones of India or seas adjacent to the coasts cannot be divided into concrete silos as the nature of threat may be very different. For example, if there is a threat from submarines, it has to be handled by the navy even if it is few miles away from the coast. Various organizations have to deal with various types of threats rather than being compartmentalized by distance from the coast.
- The issue of establishing a Central Marine Police Force started when it was proposed by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and some other states endorsed this idea as well. This is not a new issue because the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs had submitted a Report on Coastal Security in April 2014 and they had also proposed that the Centre should think about establishing what was called Marine Indian Reserve Battalion. However, some of the states are reluctant of all this and believe that the marine police should be funded by the Centre. The business of state police versus coastal police is basically a question of funding and money. States find it difficult in allocating funds for the coastal police set ups.
- The new Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Bill, 2015 has not been passed by the Parliament yet. It says that there would be a convoy system for piracy and the Indian navy proved that India became piracy free near its coast waters. There needs to be some sort of registration for every boat and Mumbai police even ordered for some sort of colours on the boats to recognize this. Coastguards can be given the overall authority for coastal security.
At the end of the day, India’s maritime security challenges and opportunities are both complex and varied. While 2008 Mumbai attack was a dramatic experience, in the intervening years a concentrated effort has been made to enhance capacity and coordination among different agencies. Yet there are many wrinkles that need to be ironed and capacity gaps that call for an effective National Maritime blueprint and a steady infusion of funds both material and human resources. Despite being smallest of the three armed forces, the Indian Navy ably complemented by the Indian Coastguard has acquired a creditable profile in the extended Indian Ocean region. Whether it is Tsunami 2004 or humanitarian efforts, the Indian Navy has made the nation proud.
Currently, the achievements in indigenous warship design and building has given the Navy a distinctive Make in India head start. Nuclear submarine Arihant symbolizes this determination and steady progress made across the board. Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi had been advocating SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) with India as the net security provider. This focus on the maritime domain is valuable and hopefully marks the beginning of the end of India’s traditional sea blindness. But still it is a long voyage while sustaining the collective effort.