NEW DELHI: Six years after the Mumbai terror attacks, the government is finally all set to install tracking devices in small fishing vessels free of cost to monitor their movement and curb security threat along the coastline.
Although the previous government had initiated the process, much time went in identifying the tracking technology and deciding on funding of the equipment. There was also strong resistance from fishermen on this issue.
Having addressed these concerns, the Home Ministry has moved a Cabinet proposal seeking approval for installation of transponders "free of cost" in fishing vessels below 20 metres in length for the purpose of tracking their movement up to a distance of 50-km from the coastline.
The ministry has estimated the cost of each transponder at about Rs 16,800 and sought funds to the tune of Rs 336 crore for installing two lakh transponders in small boats.
According to the proposal, the Home Ministry will bear the entire expenditure on transponders while the project will be implemented by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries under the Agriculture Ministry.
Technical assistance would be given by the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships (DGLL) under the Shipping Ministry, it added.
This is being done as there is "no formal mechanism" in place to track the movement of small fishing boats, which has become the "biggest challenge" towards making the coastal security set-up efficient, according to the note prepared by Home Ministry for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
At present, there is a system in place for tracking vessels above 20-m in length, but there is no such facility for boats below that length.
In the Cabinet note, the Home Ministry has proposed to install 'AIS (P)' transponders in small boats based on the recommendations of the expert committee set up by the Defence Ministry on this issue.
According to officials sources, the expert panel has suggested installation of Automatic Information System- Proprietary (AIS-P) transponder for tracking small boats after
evaluating three types of devices that were tested on a pilot basis by both DGLL and Indian Coast Guard.
AIS(P) can be implemented in the "shortest possible time" considering the availability of the National Automatic Identification System (NAIS) network, but ISRO has been suggested to simultaneously plan and launch space segment for AIS(P) in a time-bound manner, it said.
The panel said installation of AIS(P) transponders should be made "mandatory" and linked with issuance of licence for fishing granted under the State Marine Fisheries Acts (SMFA).
Lack of foolproof security allowed 10 terrorists to reach Mumbai over the sea from Pakistan and carry out India's worst ever terrorist attack on November 26, 2008 that left 166 people dead.
The Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN) and NAIS keep track of the country's maritime security.
"With these two networks, our maritime domain awareness has improved considerably. However, for meaningful surveillance efforts, there is also a need to tag the fishing boats and small coastal vessels with identity and other details. At present, even though our radars can detect these vessels, we have no way to ascertain their identity," the note said.
India's long coastline poses a variety of security concerns that include landing of arms and explosives at isolated spots on the coast, infiltration/exfiltration of anti
-national elements, use of sea and offshore islands for criminal activities and smuggling of consumer and intermediate goods through sea routes.
The absence of physical barriers on the coast and presence of vital industrial and defence installations in such zones further enhances the vulnerability of these areas.
India has a 7,516-km-long coastline running along nine states and four Union Territories.