Author : Abhijit Singh

Expert Speak Energy News Monitor
Published on Feb 21, 2022 Updated 21 Hours ago
The newly-appointed National Maritime Security Coordinator will need to ensure cross-agency coordination to successfully strengthen India’s maritime security architecture.
India’s Maritime Security Coordinator has his mission cut out The government has appointed the country’s first National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC). Former Vice Chief of the navy, Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, will be the NMSC in the National Security Council Secretariat under the National Security Advisor. Admiral Kumar will ensure cooperation and harmonised functioning between the various agencies and stakeholders tasked to ensure the protection of India’s vast coastline and safeguard interests in the exclusive economic zone. The decision to appoint a national maritime security coordinator has been more than two decades in the making. In the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan, a proposal had first been advanced to strengthen the maritime security architecture. The Mumbai terror attack in 2008 gave an impetus to the demands for the creation of a maritime security advisory board, and the appointment of a maritime security advisor—a nodal point of reference for all matters maritime. In the years since, coastal security has received considerable attention, with a significant expansion in coastal infrastructure, and in efforts to modernise the navy and the coast guard. Yet coordination between India’s maritime agencies could never quite be truly operationalised, in part because the marine police in many states continues to remain indifferent to the needs of coastal security. A recent drug haul from the coastal Gujarat reveals that the sea route remains a favourite with Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based drug cartels.
The Mumbai terror attack in 2008 gave an impetus to the demands for the creation of a maritime security advisory board, and the appointment of a maritime security advisor—a nodal point of reference for all matters maritime.
The NMSC’s effectiveness will depend on the fine print of his charter of duties and responsibilities, which remains unknown. What is clear is that Admiral Kumar’s broad mandate will be to address maritime threats in a holistic manner. He is likely to be guided by Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Security and Growth for All’ mantra. At the United Nations Security Council debate last year, the Prime Minister had developed the idea further by advancing five principles to ensure the safety and security of the maritime domain. These include removing barriers for maritime trade; peaceful settlement of disputes; a readiness to collectively face natural disasters and threats created by non-state actors; preserving the maritime environment and maritime resources; and encouraging responsible maritime connectivity. The government’s proposal to establish a Maritime Theatre Command this year is bound to add urgency to the larger initiative. Suffice itto say that Admiral Kumar will need to hit the ground running. Despite improvements in coastal security and coordination between maritime agencies, state governments, at large, have been unwilling to play a bigger role in coastal security. From low numbers of marine police stations, to the underutilisation of patrol boats for coastal tasks, absence of shore-based infrastructure, as also manpower shortages and unspent funds, systemic flaws in the security architecture remain unresolved. The NMSC’s immediate task will be to find ways to bridge the deficit.
From low numbers of marine police stations, to the underutilisation of patrol boats for coastal tasks, absence of shore-based infrastructure, as also manpower shortages and unspent funds, systemic flaws in the security architecture remain unresolved.
By some accounts, India’s maritime security agencies tend to focus excessively on the terrorism threat, placing less emphasis on non-traditional challenges such as human trafficking, illegal fishing, climate-induced crises, and maritime pollution. Admiral Kumar will seek to restore balance, through expanded interactions between the navy, the coast guard, marine police, and other agencies. Security at India’s minor ports, where efforts to rationalise administration (in the wake of the Indian Ports Bill, 2021) have been widely criticised, too, might need a closer look. Meanwhile, a proposal by the Ministry of Home Affairs for the setting up Central Marine Police Force is still pending with the Union Cabinet. The new entity is likely to have its own cadre, rules, manual, act, and infrastructure and be headed by a Director-General rank officer. Even so, it isn’t clear if the new central agency would be vested with the powers to register offences and carry out investigations. For that, the Parliament is yet to pass the draft Coastal Security Bill, 2013; delineating responsibilities of various stakeholders is another complication for security planners to contend with. Beyond managing the interplay between various stakeholders, the NMSC would be focused on the state of coastal surveillance, in particular, the need more coastal radars and Automatic Identification System (AIS) on small boats. For better domain awareness, human intelligence, too, needs more attention. Given the overlapping jurisdictions between maritime agencies, the NMSC will be keen to ensure that old problems of inadequate sharing of intelligence do not resurface.
Beyond managing the interplay between various stakeholders, the NMSC would be focused on the state of coastal surveillance, in particular, the need more coastal radars and Automatic Identification System (AIS) on small boats.
The issue of maritime development also remains crucial. In recent years, the Union government has sought to develop military and civilian infrastructure at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but environmentalists say the flurry of infrastructure projects announced could potentially devastate the fragile ecology of the islands. Whether or not the NMSC will be mandated to proffer advice on development and marine conservation remains to be seen. All in all, Admiral Kumar will be focused on creating common ground between India’s various maritime stakeholders. For the moment, he will presumably be asked to work alongside the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS)—the apex review mechanism for maritime and coastal security. Over the long term, however, the NMSC will need to reconcile divergent viewpoints and visions of India’s maritime security. That by any stretch is a daunting proposition.
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Author

Abhijit Singh

Abhijit Singh

A former naval officer Abhijit Singh Senior Fellow heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at ORF. A maritime professional with specialist and command experience in front-line ...

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