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No quick fix for coastal security

The country’s coastline is not as vulnerable as it was before the 26/11 terror strikes. The Centre showed urgency in fixing its flawed maritime security regime and the results show. But our coasts are still far from impregnable and there is no quick fix for that.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2009 00:41 IST
Rahul Singh

The country’s coastline is not as vulnerable as it was before the 26/11 terror strikes.

The Centre showed urgency in fixing its flawed maritime security regime and the results show. But our coasts are still far from impregnable and there is no quick fix for that.

The number of warships patrolling the maritime flanks almost doubled from 10 to 18 in the seven months after 26/11. The navy’s high-end warships now carry out patrols in the EEZ (exclusive economic zone — no longer the domain of the Coast Guard. Its writ only runs in the territorial waters — here too under navy supervision.

The marine police form the last line of defence, responsible for a small stretch (3-4 km) of the territorial waters, under the Coast Guard’s authority.

The new strategy recognises the navy as sole authority for coastal security.

“The new command and control structure has tightened the navy’s grip on maritime operations. The ambiguity that existed in the roles of the navy and Coast Guard before 26/11 has been eliminated,” said a senior navy officer on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The government has set up a national command, control, communication and intelligence network to do away with coordination problems between the navy and Coast Guard.

Significant headway has also been made in dividing responsibilities among the navy, Coast Guard and marine police, under the overarching authority of the navy’s top admirals.

Joint operation centres are coming up in Mumbai, Kochi, Vishakhapatnam and Port Blair. Bringing the coastline under seamless radar coverage will be a tough task though.

“Radar coverage has been extended to include sensitive installations after 26/11. It has also been enhanced in the south. But we are still many years away from achieving seamless radar coverage,” the officer said. He pointed out that barely 20 per cent of India’s coastline is covered by radars.

Seamless radar coverage is a key ingredient of the government’s coastal security. revamp plan, unveiled by Defence Minister A.K. Antony in February.

The navy is concerned about providing force protection to its high-value assets and other vital installations in the territorial waters. After the Mumbai attacks, the government announced the navy would get 80 fast interceptor boats for a new specialised force, ‘Sagar Prahari Bal’, with 1,000 personnel. Navy sources said the boats were unlikely to be inducted before the year-end, “as these were not freely available in the market.”

There has been no progress in creating the Maritime Security Advisory Board.

The government has sanctioned 20 per cent increase in vessels for the Coast Guard, which has an existing fleet of 75 warships and 50 aircraft.