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Securing our seas

A year after 10 men came from the sea and bloodied Mumbai, the agencies in charge of our coastal security are starting to get their act together. Rahul Singh reports.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2009 00:44 IST
Rahul Singh

A year after 10 men came from the sea and bloodied Mumbai, the agencies in charge of our coastal security are starting to get their act together.

But there is no single authority for coordination between various agencies and the government needs to speed up procurement of defence equipment.

Securing the country’s 7,516-km maritime border, which measures more than 10 times the heavily guarded Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, is no easy task.

The 15 organisations involved in coastal security — ranging from the Navy, Coast Guard, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and coastal police to the Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries) — are finally working in tandem.

Before the November 26, 2008, terror attack, the agencies did not have a joint strategy to ward off an audacious assault like that.

“They (the agencies) were going in different tangents. No one ever imagined a 26/11,” said a senior defence ministry official.

Following the attack, the Navy was given the responsibility of tackling coordination issues.

During the past year, more than 10 joint exercises involving several agencies have been carried out. Nine operations were launched based on intelligence inputs — something unheard of before.

At a high-level meeting on coastal security last week, Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said 13 agencies had been roped in for security manoeuvres for the first time.

“The coordination between the stakeholders has improved vastly. That’s the most defining change since 26/11,” said Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju. “There’s more effective analysis and dissemination of information on the ground. This urgency was perhaps not felt earlier.”

But the proposed maritime security advisory board, a central authority for coordinating with all these agencies, has not been established yet. “The security revamp will not be complete without the setting up of the maritime security advisory board,” said a senior Navy officer, on condition of anonymity. “There should be no foot dragging over it.”
The proposal appears to be tangled in red tape. The government has not fixed a time frame for setting up the board.
The defence ministry cleared procurement of equipment worth Rs 6,000 crore, including warships, choppers and fast attack boats, after the attack.

While the Coast Guard got approval for 55 new ships and 45 aircraft, it has commissioned only one advanced offshore patrol vessel and two interceptor boats so far. “These projects have a gestation period,” a senior Coast Guard official said. “It will take us at least two more years to induct the new equipment for which orders have been placed.”
The Navy too is around two years away from inducting 80 fast interceptor boats, sanctioned for Rs 320 crore. The same goes for the proposed 1,000-man Sagar Prahari Bal, a crack team for protection of high-value naval assets and other sensitive installations.

Plans are afoot to expand radar coverage of the coastline, with 46 radars worth Rs 300 crore being installed in the first phase. But bringing the entire coast under the radar network could take three to six years, a senior Navy official said.
“Security upgrade is a dynamic and a continuous process. We have covered a lot of ground,” said Navy Spokesperson Commander P.V.S. Satish. “All stakeholders are working together to improve things with government support.”

The home ministry’s coastal security scheme needs fresh impetus for the maritime police force to be more effective. The maritime police, who form the last line of defence and are responsible for a small stretch (3-4 km) of the territorial waters, were to get 194 boats but only 42 have been delivered. Only 25 out of 97 maritime check-posts are operational.