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Coastal security is the weak link in the nation’s security matrix

Coastal security can never figure high on police priorities and proves a weak link in the national security matrix

analysis Updated: Nov 22, 2016 22:10 IST
A police commando stands guard by the sea coast at Geeta Nagar Colaba, after a high alert was issued, in Mumbai, India, September 23, 2016
A police commando stands guard by the sea coast at Geeta Nagar Colaba, after a high alert was issued, in Mumbai, India, September 23, 2016(Kunal Patil/ HT)

Eight years after sea-borne terrorists Ajmal Kasab and gang arrived at a landing point along the Colaba beach to strike Mumbai on November 26, coastal security management across the nine coastal states and four Union Territories has yet to fall in place. Coastal security straddles both military and police roles that make it a challenge for state governments to manage effectively. Today the police forces suffer from political interference and thereby lack professionalism, which reflects in terms of poor public security priorities. Therefore, coastal security can never figure very high on police priorities and proves a weak link in the national security matrix.

The Centre contributes considerably to coastal security in terms of marine platforms and funds. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavais mooted the proposal to raise a Central Marine Police Force (CMPF) in June at a meeting to review the status of India’s coastal security management in Mumbai.

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Among the nine coastal states, only Tamil Nadu has paid serious attention to coastal security due to the earlier threat from across the Palk Straits from the LTTE. 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 cannot be operationally compared with Tamil Nadu’s CSG.

The state governments would like to believe that the presence of the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) across peninsular India is adequate to tackle sea-borne terrorist threats. The Navy 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. In the process, the swathe of seas from the coastline to 12 nautical miles which is afloat with a high density of smaller craft like fishing boats, mechanised trawlers and dhows becomes the responsibility of the coastal/marine police forces. Only an active coastal police force could possibly perform such a role which involves random checks on cargo that these myriad boats carry.

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The creation of a CMPF would relieve the police forces of an additional responsibility for coastal security. The country has a poor policeman-to-population ratio with just one policeman for 761 people that translates into approximately 131 policemen per 100,000 population. Ideally, a policeman should cater to just 568 people at the rate of 176 policemen per 100,000 population according to the Indian Bureau of Police Research and Development. However, for every VIP in India there are three police personnel protecting him/her. Therefore to expect the police forces to prioritise coastal security is unrealistic.

The CMPF would have to be under the command of the ICG and mandated to patrol the coastal waters up to 12 nautical miles. The police forces only require to designate an officer to coordinate with the ICG on operational matters.

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The proposed CMPF could be staffed by former Navy officers to form the backbone of this force. Also some members of the fishing community of each state could be recruited as marine police constables that would ensure local participation and overcome the language barriers and enhance familiarity with coastal waters. State governments perceive coastal security as a subset of national security. Therefore, the constitution of a CMPF would prove necessary to secure the nation’s 7, 517-km coastline from sea-borne threats.

Bidanda Chengappa is professor, international relations and strategic studies, Christ University, Bengaluru

The views expressed are personal