SECURING INDIA’S MARITIME SPACE

9 years after deadly 26/ 11 attacks, India still needs a foolproof coastal security system – Despite several measures taken by the government, there are concerns such as manpower, infrastructure for an infallible maritime security system to be in place.”

—Hindustan Times, 26 Nov 2017

The November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai — the commercial capital of an economically flourishing India — left a profound and ineffaceable impact on the Indian security system. The attacks exposed the lackadaisical attitude of the government, at both the central and state level, towards coastal security and the absolute ill preparedness of the country to combat such terror threats from the seas. In the aftermath of the attack, the national coastal defence apparatus was radically overhauled. A three-tier security arrangement was put in place, with the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard (ICG) and the marine police jointly tasked with safeguarding India’s maritime zones. As the lead agency, the Indian Navy took on the task of protecting the outer-most tier. The Coast Guard was tasked to sanitise the intermediate layer extending from 12 Nautical Mile (NM) to 200 NM (the limit of the territorial waters) and the marine police was entrusted with the security of the inner-most tier, comprising the shallow coast and inland waters.

Prior to the Mumbai attacks, coastal security and any related debate on the subject remained the exclusive preserve of the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard and some maritime specialists. Securing the country’s land borders remained the dominant discourse and priority on the national security agenda and the threat to national security posed by smuggling activities and refugee flows through the Indian coasts was not considered grave enough to merit much attention. It was only after the terrorist onslaught on Mumbai that national consciousness awoke to the dire need for revamping the existing coastal security system.

Coastal security is not just the job of the security forces — it concerns all citizens. The Navy is not going to get adequate resources beyond a point. Hence the resources will have to be used in an optimum manner. The fishing community on the coastline is majorly affected by loopholes in the security system and thus they need to be involved more. People living on the coast have to become the eyes and ears of security agencies. The challenges are similar to those that obtain on our land borders such as terrorism, poaching, smuggling of arms and explosives, illegal trade and illegal migration, but the sheer vastness of the area and the fact that the territory is not marked, greatly enhances the threat.

The book “India’s Coastal Security, Challenges, Concerns & Way Ahead” by Brigadier Hemant Mahajan, is born out of his research on the same vast topic over a period of two years. It includes challenges that Indian coasts face and the major concerns that are going to affect us in near future and suggests a path to make our country the deserving guardian of the Indian Ocean. The author has rightly observed that there are far too many agencies and suggests a more centralised approach and control for effective output. The need to boost our surveillance system has been well emphasised. The idea of employing a Territorial Army (TA) battalion as one of the most cost-effective ways for maintaining a vigil can be looked into. The need for a comprehensive change in India’s security policy is well enunciated and certain policy prescriptions are also given. The needs for inculcating awareness among the coastal community on coastal security matters as well as infrastructure development along the coastal area have been highlighted in the book, which aims to generate discussion among all the stakeholders, including the Indian Navy, the coast guard, the customs, intelligence agencies and the bureaucracy.

It is reasonably priced at Rs 600. However, it could have done with better editing to enhance its quality and appeal, especially as tremendous effort has been put in by the author, in research and collating the material. Recommended reading for all scholars and for those interested in maritime security.

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