Coastline security must be reformulated, made realistic and workable
Given the fact that national security is a dynamic and all-inclusive concept, India’s coastal maintenance and protection strategies should ideally constitute a paramount space in the country’s security paraphernalia. It should balance the three-dimensional thrust in respect to security of the national territory, air space and the seas. Moreover, since our security priorities can change, it should be sustainable over a period of time. This calls for a dynamic application of the mind and systemic due diligence, commensurate to the need of the times and to the needs of security of the affected zone.
In the above context, a dispassionate analysis of the security and safety of the India’s coastal domains would instantly reveal that even post-26/11, not many lessons were actually learnt. Nor was there any sustained attempt to put in place a reasoned ‘set of remedies’ in a focused manner to plug the evident gaps that manifest along India’s national maritime frontiers.
Notwithstanding the efforts made at the level of the National Committee on Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS) towards creating response systems to counter a wide range of threats, a coherent strategy commonly applicable to the nine coastal states and four Union Territories is lacking. India needs a realistic and workable approach to cope with terror threats, illegal and suspicious activities on its continental shelf and maritime accidents in the exclusive economic zone and along the elongated coastal stretch exceeding 7,500 km.
In view of the dimensions of coverage, India’s coastal policing would have to take into account the role of the state police forces also. We must ensure their integration into the broad scheme of things connected to coastal response strategy and tactics. The recent controversy over the National Counter Terrorism Centre leads one to believe that each coastal state has its own unique coastal security dynamic and entailing issues to react to and thereafter come out with a meaningful set of resolutions and related action on the ground. For example, Goa’s problems in mentoring its coastal domain would be quite different from those of Maharashtra and Kerala, despite the fact that all three accommodate substantial space for tourists, both foreign and domestic.
Under these circumstances, it would be ideal for each of the coastal domains under the respective states or UTs to come out with their own specific lists of the issues to be addressed, as well as workable response system. Sequentially, the state-wise architecture incorporating the special features of the domain concerned could be formulated with aid and advice from chosen maritime experts. Premised on these inputs, the Centre could envisage a model Maritime State Security Hub (MSSH) aggregating each of the special features brought out at the state level, for mentoring the working of the coastal police stations, brought out in the NCSMCS articulation.
Once the base structure of the MSSH is laid out, the structural decision-making in respect of the integral mission goals and equipment spectrum could be configured with the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard. The imperatives of relevant weaponry, interoperable communication systems and use of fast patrol vessels by the MSSH, too, could accordingly be worked out, with an inclusive role for the IB, R&AW and others. It would also be ideal if the MSSHs largely depend on indigenous hardware as far as possible.
Optimally, each of the MSSHs should soon have their law enforcement mission, mandated clearly both for domestic and international waters, and function under a coordinating authority acceptable to both the Centre and the states. Considering the complexities ingrained in global maritime laws, special courts can be established after a detailed analysis of the issues involved by jurists and security experts.
The recent Kerala episode involving the killing of two fishermen within India’s coastal waters by Italian marines showed that neither the police nor the legal structures had a complete understanding of the technicalities and legalities involved in action that was manifestly criminal both under the Indian law and international law. That the actual criminals could secure premature bail is also indicative that a complete comprehension of the crime and the evidentiary support to prove the crime were inadequate in relation to the crime actually committed.
The future coast guards of India — whether from the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard, District Executive Forces or the state police — need to be fully aware of their missions to be able to maintain maritime safety and security within their jurisdictions. The intricacies of patrolling the country’s exclusive economic zone and the level of preparedness also ought to be comprehended before a terror strike or an accident takes place and not post-incident as in 26/11.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own