BRIG HEMANT MAHAJAN, YSM, (RETD)
Disinterested politicians, powerful bureaucracy building its own kingdoms, generic intelligence, corrupt customs & excise, inept Police and Coast Guard and Navy with unsuitable boats& surveillance for coastal waters complete the dismal picture of coastal security in India.
India’s coastal security was breached on November 26, 2008, when 10 terrorists from Pakistan landed in Mumbai and carried out a well coordinated attack killing 170 people. In order to enter Indian waters, the terrorists hijacked an Indian fishing boat, ‘Kuber’. After successfully evading both the Navy and Coast Guard patrols, they entered Indian territorial waters, where they abandoned the vessel and used rubber dinghies to reach the Mumbai shore. Here again, they were successful in eluding the Maharashtra coastal police. The scale and intensity of the attack galvanized the Indian government into announcing several measures to revamp the coastal Security mechanism. No heads have rolled despite the fact that on 26/11 a group of terrorists landed within 500 yards of HQ Western Naval Command, HQ Coast Guard and HQ Mumbai Police. None of the agencies mentioned above could contribute anything worthwhile, when the operation to flush out the terrorists was on.
The aim of the article is to review present state of coastal security on the Western sea board & suggest additional measures to improve existing set up.
The article will cover the following aspects:-
Part 1 : Challenges to Coastal Security.
Part 2 : Glacial Paced Evolution Of The Coastal Security.
Part 3 : The Deficiencies Of Coastal Security
Part 4 : Measures Announced By The Government In Response To 26/11.
Part 5 : Additional Measures
Long And Porous Coast Line
The length of the Indian coast line is more than 7500Kms, covering nine states and four union territories creating tremendous complications for co-ordination; 13 major and 185 minor ports have to be guarded. There are a large number of ministries including Shipping , Surface Transport , Immigration , Trade and commerce , Defence and Home busy guarding their own turfs. Apart from these there are a large number of agencies like the Navy , Coast Guard ,Marine Police ,Intelligence Agencies , Customs , Excise and immigration working at cross purposes. The intelligence is generic, giving larger than life image to the terrorists.
Terrain and Location
Maharashtra and Gujarat together have a 2320-km-long coastline. This coastline is characterized by numerous creeks, small bays and rivulets. Since the creeks and rivulets run deep inside and remain poorly guarded, they have become ideal for clandestine landing of contraband and infiltrators. The physical proximity of the coast to Pakistan and the Gulf countries further adds to its vulnerability. Terrorists and smugglers, operating from Pakistan are increasingly using the sea to sneak into India.
Security of Strategic Installations
Both Gujarat and Maharashtra are highly industrialized states. The Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat, are fast emerging as an industrial and energy hub. If terrorists were to attack a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) carrying several million barrels of crude oil and seriously damage it leading to a massive oil spill, the environmental and economic impact will be immense.
Security of Fishermen
The straying of Indian fishermen into Pak waters is a serious security problem. Currently there are 434 Indian fishermen and 369 fishing vessels in Pakistani custody. The arrested fishermen could be recruited by Pakistan (ISI). ISI might use the confiscated boats to sneak in arms, explosives and operatives into India. Since these boats have Indian registration, they can easily evade attempts by Indian security agencies to track them.
Another issue is of fishermen going to sea without valid proof of identity. Photo identity cards are issued by the state fisheries department, but the arrest of many Bangladeshi fishermen by the Coast Guard exposes the corrupted process. There is difficulty of keeping a vigil on fishermen who gather in their thousands at small harbors not having security forces.
At any time there might be as many as 60,000 fishing vessels in sea. For the Coast Guard and the Navy to intercept and physically search each one of them is simply impossible. Operation, Raasta Roko, was conducted in June 2009 along the entire west coast, with the aim of ‘tracking all vessels and checking their identities’. During this joint operation ,the security agencies could check only 1,000 ships and fishing vessels despite pooling in all resources.
Awareness about the vulnerability of the country’s coasts first arose in the wake of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. This led to the launch of Operation Swan, with the aim of preventing the landing of contraband and infiltration along the coasts. The operation did not achieve much. Further attention to coastal security was given only after the “Kargil Review Committee’s recommendations”. The government launched the coastal security scheme in 2005-06. Coastal security agencies woke from their slumber only after they were outsmarted by the LET & ISI.
Components of Coastal Security
Sea patrols and aerial reconnaissance maintain vigil over the territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone and the high seas. A three-layered patrolling system is operational. At the outermost layer, the Indian Navy patrols the high seas and carries out aerial reconnaissance with ship-based aircraft. The intermediate layer, (between 12 and 200 nautical miles) is patrolled by the Coast Guard. And the territorial waters are patrolled by joint coastal teams, comprising of Customs, the state police.
Agencies receive and generate intelligence about the movement and operations of criminal and terrorist groups at sea and on land. The fishermen and villagers, have been sensitized and organized into vigilant groups like ‘Gram Suraksha Dal’ and ‘Sagar Rakshak Dal’ who keep a vigil in their villages and adjoining areas & watch on suspicious movements along the coast and at sea. Photo-identity cards have been issued to fishermen and their boats registered. To prevent from crossing over the notional maritime boundary, the government has initiated a scheme of installing GPS and VHF set in fishing boats. Coastal installations and offshore assets are provided protection through the deployment of security forces personnel and the installation of traffic monitoring systems. As part of ISPS code, Vessel Traffic Management Systems (VTMS), Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Ship Security Alert Systems (SSAS VTMS is being installed in the Gulf of Kutch Securing the Creek Areas. Completion will take at least 10-15 years.
Northwestern Gujarat is characterized by large creeks. For the security and surveillance of the creeks, two battalions of the water wing of the Border Security Force have been deployed along with six floating BOPs (Border Outposts). Of these, four are deployed in forward areas while two are kept in reserve. These BOPs maintain vigil over the area with the help of patrol boats.
Operation Swan and the Coastal Security Scheme supposed to have resulted in a multi-layered mechanism involving the Navy, Coast Guard, Maharashtra and Gujarat Police, Customs and fishermen groups. THIS MECHANISM LOOKS NICE ON PAPER BUT HAS FAILED MISERABLY. As per “Ram Pradhan Committee Report on 26/11”, Coastal Security scheme is a total failure.
Brigadier Heman Mahajan (YSM) joined armed forces since 1973. Started his military life as an officer with the ‘7 Maratha Light Infantry’. Brig. Mahajan has served in the most sensitive areas like Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, North Eastern states. Importantly Brig. Mahajan had an experience of serving his duty in highest and tough warzone like Kargil, handling peace situation in furious Punjab after the ‘Operational Blue Star’ and the Ayodhya region. Along with ‘Youth Seva Medal’, Brig. Mahajan is recipient of various Military awards for his excellent track record.