26/11 Aftermath: Boosting maritime enforcement, securing coastlines

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It’s been 13 years since the worst ever terror attacks in India struck Mumbai, leaving 175 persons dead, including nine attackers, and more than 300 injured.

According to investigations, the attackers took the sea route from Karachi across the Arabian Sea, hijacked an Indian fishing trawler ‘Kuber’, killed the crew of four, and then forced the captain to sail to Mumbai.

Since then, the management of coastal (and maritime) security in the country has undergone a paradigm shift.

Consequent to the government sanction for raising of Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB) and induction of fast interceptor craft (FIC) for force protection duties, 1,000 personnel and 80 FICs have been inducted into the Indian Navy since then.

The FICs are based in various coastal states and Union Territories. A total of 23 Immediate Support Vessels (ISVs) were also procured by ONGC in 2014 for patrolling the offshore development area, which are being manned by naval personnel.

“The Indian Navy has also been an active participant in offering expert advice on procurement and maintenance of boats by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for the state Marine Police/ Border Security Force and other agencies, as and when such assistance is sought,” said a senior government officer.

Indian Navy is also a member in the committee constituted by MHA to work out to the contours of Coastal Security Scheme (CSS), Phase III.

The CSS is a scheme steered by MHA for strengthening coastal policing wherein the MHA provides financial assistance to the states and Union Territories for infrastructure development, and procurement of vehicles and boats.

The first phase of CSS was launched in 2005, while the second was approved in 2011. The phases were to be implemented over a five-year period each.

Phase II implementation completed in March 2020. Simultaneously, the scope and outlay for CSS Phase III is also being worked out by the MHA.

Strengthening of State Marine Police, Fisheries Enforcement

Several states have also taken initiatives to strengthen the Marine Police and fisheries enforcement.

In early 2020, the Tamil Nadu government formed a specialised wing of Tamil Nadu Police – the Marine Enforcement Wing (MEW) – for the enforcement of the TN Fishing Regulation Act, 1983.

In addition, in Nagapattinam district, a committee comprising representatives of fisheries, police, revenue and transport departments has also been formed for effective enforcement of the Fishing Regulation Act.

Likewise, Karnataka is also considering raising an independent fisheries enforcement wing. Notably, in Kerala, a Marine Enforcement Wing was sanctioned in 1984.

In Odisha, in a move towards effective utilisation of trained manpower, the state police headquarters has issued a new policy on posting and transfer of personnel in the state Marine Police, stipulating a minimum duration of service.

Some states such as Karnataka and West Bengal have also reserved some posts for ex-servicemen in the Marine Police.

All these are important steps in boosting India’s capabilities for maritime enforcement, particularly from the human resources perspective.

The state Marine Police has progressively been integrated into the response mechanisms to deal with exigencies like natural calamities, search and rescue (SAR) operations, and also during the ongoing Covid pandemic wherein the seaward element of the lockdown was enforced by the coastal states.

With enhanced capacity and capabilities, they have the potential to contribute in even larger measures to overall maritime security.

Government’s New Initiatives

From a development perspective, the importance of the Indian coastline in world trade has been often reiterated and it has been stated that the government would focus on development of a four-lane road across the entire coast as a follow-on to the port-led development project, Sagarmala.

The inauguration of the submarine optical cable to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the plan to connect the Lakshadweep Islands were cited as examples of the government’s focus on island development.

From a security perspective, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has highlighted the government’s plan to expand the National Cadet Corps (NCC) in the border and coastal areas.

These statements clearly bring out the importance of developing coastal borders and islands, and the significance of security as a facilitator for trade and development.

The inextricability of security and growth has also been articulated in the vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region).

On September 10, 2020, Prime Minister Modi digitally launched the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). The PMMSY with a projected investment of Rs 20,050 crore over a five-year period is part of the ‘Aatmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) package.

While the PMMSY is essentially a scheme to “bring about the Blue Revolution through sustainable and responsible development of the fisheries sector in India”, its aims and objectives also include physical security and robust fisheries management/regulatory framework.

The project also aims to establish linkages and convergence with other schemes, including safety- and security-related projects in the fisheries sector, such as with the MHA for fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) related activities, and the Department of Space for satellite-based communication and tracking devices such as transponders for the fisheries sector.

Further, the scheme includes upgrading of fishing harbours and landing centres, development of ‘integrated modern coastal fishing villages’ and setting-up of fisheries extension services in the form of 3,447 Sagar Mitras.

Coastal Security Studies

Towards advancing maritime and coastal security studies, the Rashtriya Raksha University (RRU) Act, 2020 was enacted last year. The varsity, located at Gandhinagar, focuses on policing, including coastal policing, security, law enforcement and others.

Likewise, the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research University, Hyderabad, and the Centre for Human Security Studies (CHSS), a Hyderabad-based think-tank on internal and external affairs, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2020 inter-alia to work together in advancing academics and research including in coastal and maritime security and related laws.

To conclude, maritime security governance has been progressively strengthened through a whole-of-government approach over the last decade.

Insofar as coastal security is concerned, infrastructure is being progressively developed and interagency coordination has only improved in recent years.

Notwithstanding all these, there are still some challenges which need to be taken care of.

Two of the big-ticket reforms in maritime security governance, namely setting-up of a single-point apex body for maritime affairs and the NMDA project, are work in progress.

While the proposal for creation of a National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) has been approved by CCS, the NMDA project is yet to be implemented.

Physical guarding of the entire coastline is not feasible. Identification of a target boat amid large number of our India’s fishing boats and dense shipping traffic is also very difficult. Unregulated fishing further complicates identification of friend or foe.

Further, identification of personnel manning the boats is equally difficult in the absence of suitable identity cards. Identification problem is not only for small boats, but also for thousands of containers and cargo vessels that call at Indian ports or pass close to the coasts to prevent smuggling of arms, ammunition, explosives and human trafficking. Use of technology holds the key here.

Integration of maritime stakeholders continues to remain a key concern.

There is a requirement of sharing information among all the agencies for coordinated action against the common threat. Regular communication and flow of information between the stakeholders can only be facilitated with the help of modern technology.

As India increasingly looks outward, it is important to note that the foundational elements for India’s regional vision– SAGAR or the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) — are in the maritime security governance structures within India itself.

Therefore, strengthening maritime and coastal security governance becomes an enabler and facilitator for India’s regional vision.

While continued efforts are being made by multiple agencies to strengthen maritime and coastal security across all levels of governance, many issues will continue to remain a work-in-progress.

(Sumit Kumar Singh can be reached at sumit.k@ians)

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