NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: India’s much hyped maritime defence plan remains hurdled by procurement delays and turf wars, three years after 10 Pakistani terrorists sailed into Mumbai undetected, exposing the holes in the country’s coastal security.
The government had decided to go for a comprehensive overhaul of the coastal security architecture and had drawn a blueprint of the proposal.
This included installing coastal radar surveillance network, a chain of automatic identification system stations, setting up a special security force Sagar Prahari Bal, issuing fishermen identity cards and creating a maritime intelligence network NC3IN or the National Command Control Communication and Intelligence.
But all these proposals are nowhere near becoming operational, leaving India’s 7,600-km-long coastline as vulnerable as it was during the Mumbai terror attack.
The maritime border runs through nine states — Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal — and four Union territories: Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, Pondicherry, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
An official pointed out that inordinate delays in execution was the reason why there were incidents like “abandoned vessels or ghost ships” breaching the three-tier security ring of the Indian Navy and almost reaching India’s shores.
Officials privately admitted to IANS that many of coastal security proposals were hampered because of “bureaucratic hurdles, procurement delays and turf wars between security agencies”, including the Navy and the Coast Guard.
For example: Indian Coast Guard, the principal agency for maintaining security in the maritime zones, is operating at virtually half its required strength.
The force has only 65 per cent of the required force-levels of ships and vessels, and 48 per cent in terms of aircraft and helicopters.
This has even drawn flak from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report of 2011.
The government, as per its coastal security plan, also wanted continuous monitoring of 3,331 designated coastal villages, tens of thousands of fishing boats and securing major and non-major ports and harbours.
For this, the government had proposed to issue biometric identity cards to all fishermen. This is being handled by state governments. This initiative was being funded by the Union home ministry.
It had also proposed to register sailing vessels. Boats larger than 20 feet already need an AIS, without which they would be treated as potentially unfriendly vessels.
The defence ministry had requested to make this compulsory even for boats below 20 feet. The proposal is being studied by the ministry of shipping.
The joint operation centres of the Navy and the Coast Guard at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair are also understaffed.
“Till everything is set in place, adequate manpower, force-levels, equipment, we cannot claim to have a fully secured coastline,” a senior official told IANS.
He said the Navy and Coast Guard had stepped up their sea patrolling by 60-80 per cent and aerial surveillance by 100 per cent.
However, the aerial and sea patrolling need to be backed by continuous electronic surveillance to make supervision really effective, the official said.
For this the Navy and Coast Guard had sought static coastal radar surveillance network. They had asked for 46 radars, 36 on the mainland, six in Lakshadweep and Minicoy and four in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The project worth over Rs 602 crore was cleared by the cabinet committee on security in February 2009. But the contract is yet to be inked, the official admitted, saying bureaucratic hurdles were delaying the project.
The fate of the proposed AIS stations is no different. The AIS is aimed at locating and tracking merchant and fishing vessels.
The NC3IN intelligence network that would link 51 nodes of navy and Coast Guard is also hanging fire. The defence ministry has claimed that the project would be completed by 2012.
The SPB was supposed to have 98 officers, 902 sailors and 80 fast-interception boats for security of naval bases. This is also yet to take off.
So far only 11 officers and some 250 sailors, with rented boats, have being positioned. Officials said the first four fast interception boats were likely to be delivered by the end of this year.
The only thing that went right after the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people is coast policing.
The government has been able to establish nearly 100 coastal police stations. This is being paid for by the central government.