India’s Coastal Security Challenges and Policy Recommendations

    The November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai?the commercial capital of an economically resurgent India?left a deep and indelible impact on the Indian security psyche. The attacks exposed the lackadaisical attitude of the Government, at both the Central and state level, towards coastal security and the sheer illpreparedness of the country to combat such terror threats from the seas.

    The November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai—the commercial capital of an economically resurgent India—left a deep and indelible impact on the Indian security psyche. The attacks exposed the lackadaisical attitude of the Government, at both the Central and state level, towards coastal security and the sheer illpreparedness of the country to combat such terror threats from the seas.

    Unfortunately, prior to the Mumbai attacks, coastal security and any related debate on the subject had been the exclusive preserve of the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard and some maritime specialists. For most policy makers, who suffered from varying degrees of “sea blindness”, securing the country's land borders remained the dominant discourse and priority on the national security agenda. For them, the degree of threat to national security posed by smuggling 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 overhauling/rejuvenating the existing coastal security system.

    One of the first steps in addressing the challenges posed by the porous maritime boundary was to comprehend the enormity of the problem: India has a 7,517 km-long coastline of which 5,423 km covers the mainland and 2,094 km encircles Andaman & Nicobar islands. Besides, with the available state of resources (both technological and in terms of manpower) it is difficult to guard the entire coastline in a fool-proof manner. Hence, the realization by the authorities for the urgent need to subscribe to capacity and infrastructure enhancement of the maritime agencies involved in coastal security and, more importantly, creating seamless interaction between them.

    In view of the above factors, it is necessary to evaluate and classify the types of asymmetric threats emanating from the seas. These can be classified into three threat levels, depending on the extent of immediate damage that each is capable of causing:

    (i) penetration by non-state actors and terror attacks on population centres along the coast, vital installations like atomic power plants, oil platforms, naval/ military/coast guard bases and industrial centres.

    (ii) Threats posed by organized gangs carrying out smuggling of narcotics, arms and explosives;

    (iii) indirect, yet consequential threats; including vulnerability of the Indian coast to illegal inflow of migrants and refugees from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, especially along the Odisha and Tamil Nadu coasts.