Author : Abhijit Singh

Expert Speak War Fare
Published on Nov 23, 2018
Coastal preparedness is better than earlier — but the overall picture remains less than satisfactory. While the state of inter-agency coordination has improved, state governments continue to be indifferent to needs of coastal security, and the state-police still reluctant to shoulder responsibility.
India’s coastal security: An assessment The tenth anniversary of 26/11 is an apt occasion to review the state of India’s coastal security preparedness. In the aftermath of the attacks on Mumbai, the government made concerted efforts to improve coastal security infrastructure and law enforcement. In a radical overhaul of the coastal defence apparatus, a three-tier security grid was installed with the Indian Navy, the coast guard, and the marine police jointly patrolling India’s near-seas. An existing Coastal Security Scheme (originally instituted in 2005) was accelerated, with greater fund allocations for coastal infrastructure, including police stations and radar stations along India’s coastline. The enterprise included measures to improve ‘surveillance and domain awareness,’ through the installation of radar stations and identification systems), and the enhancement of coordination through Joint Operation Centres (JOCs). <1> A decade later, coastal preparedness is better than earlier, but the overall picture remains less than satisfactory. While the state of inter-agency coordination has improved, state governments continue to be indifferent to needs of coastal security, and the state-police still reluctant to shoulder responsibility. <2> The real problem, observers point out, are systemic flaws in the policing apparatus. From low numbers of marine police stations, to the underutilisation of patrol boats for coastal tasks, absence of shore-based infrastructure, through to manpower shortages and unspent funds, coastal managers are yet to resolve many structural issues plaguing the system. <3>

A decade later, coastal preparedness is better than earlier, but the overall picture remains less than satisfactory.

Regrettably, the proposal to set up an apex coastal authority remains frozen. India’s policymakers recognise the need for a full-time manager to coordinate the large number of agencies (over 15) in the coastal security space. Officials say that the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security, which presently coordinates joint activities, is at best an ad hoc arrangement. <4> Yet, parliament has not been able to clear the coastal security bill that would establish a National Maritime Authority (NMA). <5>  Worryingly, there has been a surge in illicit activity in the littorals. Narcotics trafficking incidents have witnessed an uptick, the most prominent incident being the seizure of the M.V. Henry in August 2017. <6> Beyond using the country's porous coastline for narcotics smuggling, drug traffickers are turning old harbours like Tuticorin into a hub of contraband and illicit trade. <7> The government has responded by enhancing coastal security allocations to the states, and by seeking to extend the jurisdiction of coastal police stations up to 200 nautical miles (even if it overlaps uncomfortably with the coast guard’s area of responsibility). <8>

Critical ‘gaps’ persist, particularly at Indian ports, where authorities are yet to install fool-proof security measures.

By some accounts, Indian security agencies have tended to focus on the terrorism threat, placing less emphasis on non-traditional challenges such as human trafficking, IUU fishing, climate-induced crises and maritime pollution. Even so, the navy and coast guard have developed significant capability to deal with irregular challenges and the multiagency exercises such as Sagar Kavach have helped improve coordination. <9> The most heartening development has been the strengthening of the coast guard that has built substantial strength in recent years, and even recently revealed plans to become a 190 ship, 100 aircraft force by 2023. Yet critical ‘gaps’ persist, particularly at Indian ports, where authorities are yet to install fool-proof security measures. According to an Intelligence Bureau audit in 2016, out of 227 minor ports in India, 187 had little or no security at all. More than six years after the home ministry cleared the setting up of radiation detection equipment in 16 of the major ports in 2011, two of these ports have yet to receive the equipment. <10> The security of oil infrastructure poses a peculiar problem. While most of India’s crude oil imports are through certain identified ports and Single Point Moorings (SPMs), there is no integrated strategy for their protection. Chapter III of the Coast Guard Act 1978 places the responsibility for protection of artificial islands and offshore terminals within the ICG’s functional ambit <11>, but CG officers say the task of protecting SPMs 15 nautical miles from the shoreline must be performed by the CISF. The latter claims they lack required assets and trained personnel to discharge the function. <12> Meanwhile, a proposal for a Central Border Police Force, proposed by Maharashtra is still under consideration. The central government wants the new agency to be modelled after the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) — raised, funded, and administered from New Delhi. But many security experts believe the plan is unviable. With no authority to register offences or carry out investigations, the new agency, they fear, could end-up being a toothless force. <13> Even as Indian agencies grapple with the security threats in the near-seas, it would be fair to say that security planners have a better sense than earlier of the complexities involved in the coastal project. Indian agencies have begun an active collaboration in the near-littorals and are seeking to align visions and pursue operations with unity of purpose.


Surveillance and interagency coordination

For better domain awareness, India needs better surveillance coverage. Beyond expediting the installation of coastal radar chains and AIS stations and ensuring broad access to information, the authorities must ensure the mandatory fitment of AIS on power-driven vessels with a length more than 10m. The central government must address the problems of coordination arising out of the interactions of multiple agencies (with overlapping jurisdictions) and delayed responses.

Stronger involvement of coastal police

Instead of setting up a coastal border security force with no legal powers, the authorities must move to strengthen and better integrate the coastal police into the littoral security architecture.

A legislative framework

Comprehensive legislations must be enacted to place systems and processes for the protection of India’s maritime infrastructure, covering both the shipping and port sectors. Statutory duties of government departments, Port trusts, state maritime boards, non-major ports and private terminal operators and other stakeholders need to be clearly outlined, as also minimum standards of port security requiring statutory compliance.

Strengthening of the Coast Guard

The CG must be strengthened to play a leadership role in coastal security. Ambiguities from the Coast Guard Act need to be removed to ensure all security agencies are clear about the roles and responsibilities they are expected to perform.

National commercial maritime security policy document

The government must promulgate a National Commercial Maritime Security Policy Document, to articulate its strategic vision for maritime security. It must also promulgate a national strategy for Commercial Maritime Security for efficient, coordinated, and effective action for protection of the port and shipping infrastructure.<14>

Reinforce Coastal Regulation Zone regulations

There is an apprehension among environmentalists that CRZ laws are being diluted in favour of tourism, shrimp farming and industry lobby groups, without taking into consideration the views of experts or the public. The draft coastal regulation zone notification 2018 (CRZ- 2018) was twice amended in 2018 by the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) in “public interest” but without consulting the fish-working community — India’s largest, non-consumptive coastal stakeholder. <15>
<1>Initiatives to Strengthen Coastal Security”, The Indian Navy. (accessed on 10 October 2018). <2>PAC Highlights Slow Pace Of Upgradation of Coastal Security”, India Today, 14 April 2017. (accessed on 11 October 2018) <3> Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India General (CAG) and Social Sector for the year ended March 2015, Government of Odisha, Report Number 3 of 2016, pp 68-75; "Draft CAG report on coastal security finds Odisha’s marine police stations floundering,The Indian Express, 20 October 2015. (accessed on 8 October 2018)  <4>Reviewing India’s Coastal Security Architecture”, Takshashila Blue Paper, 26 September 2016. (accessed on 7 October 2018) <5> Kalyan Ray, “Coastal Security Bill Caught in Red Tape,” The Deccan Herald, 25 May 2015. (accessed on 5 October 2018) <6> Vijaita Singh, “Gujarat drug haul may be tip of the iceberg,The Hindu, 5 August 2017. (accessed on 8 October 2018) <7>Tuticorin's old harbour turns hub to ferry drugs,” Times of India, 17 August 2016. (accessed on 9 October 2018) <8> Yatsih Yadav, “Securing India's maritime border: Government contemplating giving greater powers to states,” FirstPost, 10 August 2018. (accessed on 7 October 2018) <9> Ibid. <10> Shaswati Das, “India’s Port and Coastal Security Still has Gaping Holes”, Livemint, 21 July 2017. (accessed on 6 October 2018) <11> S. Anandan, “Coast Guard may be asked to protect single point moorings", The Hindu, 10 May 2015. (accessed on 8 October 2018) <12> The Indian Coast Guard Act, 1978. (accessed on 9 October 2018) During interviews with some Coast Guard and BSF officials, there were claims that the issues with the CISF over security of SPMs have been resolved. There are, however, still no official reports in the public domain that might confirm such assertions. <13>  Pushpita Das, “Why a Central Marine Police Force is Not Required for Coastal Security”, Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses: Commentary, 21 June 2016. (accessed on 7 October 2018) <14> The suggested architecture must include all agencies involved in coastal security, including the Ministry of Shipping, Director General Shipping, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Fisheries, Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Defence, Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, State Police, port authorities and civilian agencies. <15> Siddharth Chakravarty, “Saving the Coastal Rights Act,” Livemint, 12 August 2018. (accessed on 10 October 2018)
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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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