In a significant move to strengthen coastal security management, a decade after the 26/11 sea-borne terrorist attack on Mumbai, the central government now plans to establish a National Academy for Coastal Policing at Gujarat.
The proposed academy will train the coastal police forces of the nine coastal states and four union territories (UTs) which constitute peninsular India.
Today the country’s coastal state governments/UTs lack a permanent cadre for its coastal or marine security police wings and personnel posted there for a few years return to other police duties. As a result, the little hands-on exposure that these police personnel obtain to coastal security is lost when they are transferred elsewhere.
Coastal Police: A Challenge for State Govts
For state governments, coastal security management proves to be a challenge because it transcends pure police roles and enters the military realm. And the state governments only possess police forces primarily oriented to operate on land and not the sea.
Till the central government raises a Central Marine Police Force (CMPF), the proposed academy will train police personnel from the coastal states/UTs in coastal security management, which straddles both military and police functions. Therefore, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavais mooted the proposal to raise a CMPF in June 2016 at a meeting to review the status of the country’s coastal security management in Mumbai.
The country’s coastal states/UTs, who are responsible for coastal security management in their territories, have failed to meaningfully discharge their obligations with some exceptions like Tamil Nadu.
The state has paid serious attention to coastal security due to the earlier LTTE threat from across the Palk Straits. Raised in 1994, the Tamil Nadu Police Coastal Security Group (CSG) is a well-trained force tasked to protect the state’s 1,076-km coastline. The marine/coastal security police forces in the other eight states and four UTs cannot operationally compare with Tamil Nadu’s CSG.
Inadequate Police Force in India
The priorities of the Indian Police are political intelligence and VIP security, among other duties. To therefore expect the state police forces to focus on coastal security management is an unrealistic expectation. The fact that the country has poor police to population ratio with just one policeman for 761 people, which translates into approximately 131 policemen per lakh population, does not enable them to ensure effective coastal security management.
India has fewer policeman per capita compared to most other countries. According to the Indian Bureau of Police Research and Development, New Delhi, a policeman should cater to just 568 people at the rate of 176 policemen per lakh population.
Moreover, the state police forces across the country are not really oriented to tackle coastal security, and thereby the need for a CMPF which would fill a vital gap in the national security matrix.
Importantly, the lack of progress to install fishing boats with transponders which are linked to the land-based Automatic Identification System is a lacuna in the coastal security system, and nullifies progress made on every other front. Every fishing boat with transponders that is tracked amounts to a pair of ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ at sea becomes part of the coastal security system. Conversely, every boat not in the system remains a potential threat.
This remains a contentious issue and a political hot potato since large fishing fleet owners who contribute to party election funds do not want their vessels’ movements tracked, as some of them are also known to indulge in nefarious activities like smuggling contraband and narcotics.
Role of Central Govt in Coastal Security Management
State governments believe that national security, especially externally fostered internal security threats are the central government’s responsibility, and therefore, rely on the Indian Navy (IN) and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) across peninsular India to tackle sea-borne terrorist threats.
However, the problem arises because the IN patrols the high seas beyond 200 nautical miles given the heavy tonnage of their warships; the ICG covers the waters between 12 and 200 nautical miles. The swathe of seas from the coastline to 12 nautical miles which is afloat with a high density of smaller craft like fishing boats, mechanized trawlers and dhows becomes the responsibility of the coastal/marine police forces.
What role should the Centre play in coastal security management, considering the fact that law and order is a state subject?
The Centre contributes considerably to the coastal security of peninsular India in terms of marine platforms and funds to establish coastal security police stations; besides other hardware like beach scooters and night vision devices.
Technology Alone Can’t Secure India’s 7,517 Km Coastline
After the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the central government established the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security, with the Cabinet Secretary at its helm, to implement the National Maritime Domain Awareness project.
The Navy, assisted by the coast guard, state marine police forces, and other state and central agencies undertook this project. Conceptually speaking, the coast guard is inferior to the fighting navy, but superior to the police in terms of marine platforms, weaponry and training, therefore ideally suited for coastal security management.
But the reality is that the ICG lacks the bandwidth to patrol shallow waters which extends from the coastline up to 12 nautical miles.
Its first phase was to provide seamless coverage of India's coastline, which includes installation of a chain of 74 Automatic Identification System receivers along the coast and 46 coastal radars around the country’s mainland and the island territories to track small vessel traffic in the coastal waters.
However, technology alone cannot secure the country’s 7,517 kms coastline.
Clearly “boots on the seas” or a coastal security force similar to the Border Security Force, standing guard permanently on the country’s land borders, is necessary to complement this technology-driven security infrastructure.
Only an active coastal police force could possibly conduct random checks on cargo in these myriad boats sailing on the shallow waters as a deterrent to wrong doers.
(The writer is a Professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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