Coastal security is everybody’s job, says Pune author Brig (retd) Hemant Mahajan
The book ‘India’s Coastal Security, Challenges, Concerns and the Way Ahead’ by Brig (retd) Hemant Mahajan was released in Pune on Tuesday. HT spoke to Brig Mahajan about the book and the challenges the Indian coastal areas face. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Why focus on the Indian coasts in this book?
India pays lot of attention to its land borders. Coastline security has not been taken seriously. The first chapter of the book deals with the history of coastal security with details about how India approached the problem. In fact, 26/11 was the first time coastal security was taken seriously. The book includes challenges that Indian coasts face. There there are 15 chapters in my book and at the end of each chapter there are two pages of recommendations. After all, the Navy is not going to get adequate resources beyond a point. So the book also talks about using resources in an optimum manner. The last chapter is only about major recommendations. The aim of the book is to generate discussion among all the stakeholders, including the Indian Navy, the coast guard, the customs, intelligence agencies and the bureaucracy.
Given that you hail from the infantry, why march on the beach?
Yes, I have been an infantry man. After my retirement I started writing regularly on national security and have written nine books, of which first three were in Marathi. So while I was involved in all these issues one of the naval officers asked me whether I can do research for the Indian Maritime Foundation, a think tank. So this book was born out of research over a period of two years. While writing the book, I travelled for nearly five months along the coasts of the country. Moreover, there are hardly any books on coastal security and I thought it was neglected thing.
3.What are the main challenges we face along the Indian coastline?
Coastal security is not just the job of security forces. It is the job of everybody. It includes the fishing community on the coastline also. A normal person living on the coast has to become the eyes and ears of security agencies. The challenges are exactly the same like with the land borders. It includes the threat of terrorism, smuggling of arms and explosives, illegal trade and illegal migration. If you remember the 1993 Mumbai blasts, the explosives came by sea. Even today, one of the threats India faces is naxalism and naxals need ammunition. Since naxals do not have the capacity to manufacture the ammunition they prefer to get smuggled from the east coast. On our west, particularly at Sir Creek in Gujarat, there is fair amount of infiltration. Then on our south, particularly the Sri Lankan border is a challenge as the material for bombs in the southern parts of India has come from these borders. In fact one of our prime ministers was martyred by the LTTE, who came in from the southern sea. Similarly, Sunderbans in West Bengal is used for infiltration by Bangladeshis.
What is the way ahead ?
There are many things one can do to improve the security environment of the coasts. To keep the coast safe, everybody has to do their jobs properly. From local fishing community to security agencies, all have to work together.
Your main recommendations to overcome the challenges.
There are large numbers of recommendations I have given,these include cost-effective agencies. A territorial army (TA) battalion is one of the most cost-effective ways for maintaining a vigil. The TA soldier gets paid only when he is on duty. Secondly is there are far too many agencies and there is no centralised control. Thirdly, we have to beef up our surveillance. We have to manage our coastal traffic as it has become a free-for-all. The sea traffic at all important harbours has to be managed and regulated. These are some of the recommendations I have made in my book.