Shore up on security

Published on Nov 24, 2006 12:09 AM IST

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's warning that India's 7,000-km-plus coastline was especially vulnerable to threat should not be ignored.

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Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s warning that India’s 7,000-km-plus coastline was especially vulnerable to threat should not be ignored. Some of the country’s most important infrastructure — oil refineries, ports, nuclear power plants and cities — are located on the coasts. Equally valuable assets, such as oil platforms, lie off-shore. Though India has a significant naval presence in the region, its record of policing its shores is not particularly good. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) members were able to move back and forth from Sri Lanka without much trouble. In fact, the LTTE team that carried out Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991 came across the Palk Straits. In 1993, the explosives used for the horrific Mumbai blasts clandestinely came ashore with the connivance of corrupt customs and police officials.

The process of guarding these areas actually began in earnest after the Mumbai blasts of 1993. The authorities have a model they can copy from — that of the cordon established to check the movement of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu in the wake of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The system involved mobile patrols and static checkposts on the land, as well as maritime patrols where the coastguard patrolled the inshore areas, and the navy the high seas. Given the paucity of vessels, the coastguard went in for hired trawlers manned by armed personnel. This system was also replicated along the Gujarat-Maharashtra coast in the aftermath of the 1993 Mumbai blasts.

What the government needs now is to institutionalise the process of coastal policing and provide it depth to cover vital installations on the shore. The growth in communications and road infrastructure since that period makes this task easier. However, the major problem that the authorities face is in the restrictions because of state boundaries. The terrorist threat, whether domestic or maritime, is not constrained by national or international boundaries. This is something our political class needs to understand and work upon.

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