Major lacunae identified then were coastal police and coordination between many state and central agencies. Several measures were announced by the government to strengthen coastal and maritime security along the entire coast. The Indian Navy was designated as the lead agency to be assisted in this task by the Indian Coast Guard and other Central and state agencies.
In 2010, the UPA government maintaining that Coastal security was one of the top priorities, had announced its plan to set up 227 Coastal Police Stations in two phases in the nine states along the over 7,500 km long shoreline of the country. In the first phase, the government sanctioned setting up of 96 such stations. In phase two another 131 of these stations were to come up.
The local police was made responsible for patrolling the shallow waters utilising the boats hired by the Union Home Ministry. But an exercise by Coast Guard in 2011, simulating the 26/11attack, beginning from sea-landing at Mumbai’s Budhwar Park and another on a jetty in Gujarat succeeded, exposed glaring vulnerabilities.
In February 2013, then Defence Minister A K Antony reviewed the progress on various steps taken to enhance coastal security. Acknowledging the action taken for installation of 46 coastal Static Radars (36 in mainland and 10 in island territories) on lighthouses, which would help in identification and monitoring of maritime traffic, he asked the officers to expedite on the second phase of Coastal Security Initiatives which would translate into a robust and gap- free Maritime Domain Awareness.
In April 2013 media reported that nearly a hundred dhows and barges could be prowling silently in the waters of the Arabian Sea off India’s west coast, undetected by authorities as they travel to and from ports in Pakistan and the Middle East. The shipping ministry’s Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) believes that these vessels — which are registered with the department but cannot be physically traced — no longer exist. But the Coast Guard was not so sure. At a high-level security meeting called by then Maharashtra Chief Secretary J K Banthia on April 6, attended by top Coast Guard and MMD officials, it was revealed that a massive three-month security exercise had failed to establish the locations of 98 of 100 vessels registered with the MMD in Mumbai. The owners of these vessels had failed to respond to the search. The Coast Guard also informed Maharashtra governmentthat it had found during a separate exercise, that only one of the innumerable dhows sailing up and down the coast, only one was fitted with the mandatory security equipment, Automatic Identification System (AIS).
On 23 November 2014, Maritime Domain Awareness got a boost with Raksha Mantri, Manohar Parrikar, inaugurating the National Command Control Communication and Intelligence Network (NC3I). This over- arching coastal security network collates data about all ships, dhows, fishing boats and all other vessels operating near our coast, from multiple technical sources including the AIS and radar chain. These inputs are fused and analysed at the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) at Gurgaon, which disseminates this compiled Common Operating Picture for Coastal Security to all 51 nodes of the Navy & Coast Guard spread across the coast of India. This Nodal Hub for the coastal security of our country conceptualized by Indian Navy, is a major step in the establishment of a coastal security shield along the coast.
However, Shri Parrikar was candid enough to admit that the surveillance network still has some gaps which need to be plugged, specifying that “for almost 350 km (the distance from Mangalore to Goa), there is no radar point. Similarly, Goa-Ratnagiri, there are no radar points.” Assessing this as an enormous task, considering the fact that there are about 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 fishing boats operating in our coast lines, he stressed that active cooperation of state governments is required to achieve one hundred percent success. He also called for a change in mindset to correlate data made available through the massive surveillance network to ensure ‘zero tolerance to error’.
Few days before completion of 6 years since 26/11, Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Indian Air Force conducted the annual Defence of Gujarat Exercise for five days, involving over 30 ships, submarines and aircraft of the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and State agencies deployed off India’s Western Coast to test the defence of the offshore oil production areas as well as to fine tune SOPs and test new operational concepts for coastal security.
Meanwhile Defence Ministry, Navy’s press release gave an update including substantial progress. The National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS), headed by the Cabinet Secretary, is the apex body to coordinate all matters related to maritime and coastal security. Joint Operations Centres (JOCs), set up by the Navy as command and control hubs for coastal security at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair are fully operational. These JOCs are manned 24×7 jointly by the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Police.
Coastal patrolling by Navy, CoastGuard and marine police has increased sharply over the last few years. Inter–agency coordination, between nearly 15 national and state agencies has improved dramatically, owing to regular exercises conducted by the Navy in all the coastal states. Nationwide, over 100 such exercises have been conducted till date since 2008, have strengthened coastal security markedly. In addition to continuous patrolling by Navy and Coast Guard, modern technical measures have also been implemented for coastal surveillance, by way of a chain of 74 Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers, for gapless cover along the entire coast. This is complemented by a chain of overlapping 46 coastal radars in the coastal areas of our mainland and Islands. A second phase of coastal radars is also being implemented to plug the small gaps in some places.
The Navy press release also informed of some other steps taken to enhance coastal security. Identity cards have been issued to all fishermen with a single centralised database. Over 2,00,000 fishing vessels operating off our coast have been registered and fishing boats have been fitted with suitable equipment to facilitate vessel identification and tracking. Our fishing communities are adept mariners, whose cooperation is indispensable to our maritime security.
By spreading awareness in these communities through coastal security awareness campaigns conducted by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard in all coastal districts of the country, fishing communities have become the ‘eyes and ears’ of our security architecture. In the Western Naval Command itself, nearly 70 such campaigns were conducted in 2014 alone. During these campaigns fishermen have been strongly advised and warned not to cross the International Maritime Boundary as it is in the interest of their safety. Fishermen today own GPS receivers and are therefore fully aware of their positions at sea.
On 24 September 2014, a Coastal Security Review Meeting held at HQ, Southern Naval Command reviewed preparedness of various agencies involved in coastal security of Kerala and Lakshadweep Islands. Attended by senior functionaries from Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Coastal District Administration, Police, Fisheries, Customs, IB, Ports, CISF/CoPT, BPCL, LNG Petronet, Lakshadweep and Mahe Administration, the meeting included a comprehensive review of the steps already initiated to safeguard the coast, new initiatives to improve coordination and joint operations, optimum utilization of available resources and additional measures required to strengthen coastal security. Also discussed were the progress on Registration of Fishing Boats, issue of Biometric Identity Cards to fishermen, Notification and Monitoring of fish landing centres, audit of minor ports as per International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code, Security of LNG Petronet and Single Point Mooring (SPM) and commissioning of coastal Police Stations. The delegates also visited the state of the art, newly constructed Joint Operations Centre as well as the Fast Interceptor Craft inducted by the Navy for Force Protection. The Coastal Security Mechanism was reviewed following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks from the sea. Two major Coastal Security Exercises named Theera-Vetta are conducted every year along the coast of Kerala, the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands.
The Navy and Coast Guard have also provided periodic maritime training to marine police in all coastal states. In Western Naval Command itself over 250 police personnel have been trained in 2014. In order to have a permanent police training facility, Marine Police training institutes in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have been approved by the Government recently. These will provide the Marine Police better facilities and infrastructure for professional training.
Coastal states need to pursue development of marine police meaningfully. A news report, of October 14, 2014, stated that 72 speedboats worth Rs 32 crore purchased after 26/11 were not functioning at the fleet’s full capacity as the home ministry had failed to reply to a proposal aimed at allowing the police to buy fuel for them. The report also mentioned that earlier in 2012, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had also slammed the Maharashtra government for not making sufficient provisions for operating the police speedboats. Such glitches must be avoided.