A newly-built coastal police station at Kochi. The Home Ministry has financed 73 such stations across India's 9 coastal states and 4 coastal union territories.
by Ajai Shukla
Kochi, Business Standard, 26th Nov 10
Two years after ten Pakistani terrorists sailed undetected from Karachi to Mumbai and exposed multiple vulnerabilities in India’s internal security, the government’s most successful response has perhaps been in boosting coastal security. After having long regarded its northern land border as the key security challenge, New Delhi has made significant headway in devising and implementing a new Coastal Security Scheme (CSS).
The new frontline against seaborne terror is guarded by a brand new network of 73 coastal police stations, like the one at Kochi that Business Standard visited. Differentiating it from the traditional thana, the exterior sports a smart blue-and-white maritime motif; inside, the chairs still bear their original plastic protective covering. Parked on the waterfront are three Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs), built by Goa Shipyard Limited especially for the coastal police, which cleave through the water at 70 kilometres per hour.
For three hours daily a sea-going police patrol --- motivated by a sea-going allowance of 50% of basic pay --- checks fishing boats for registration papers and identity documents. A “Kadalora Jagratha Samithi” (Coastal Awareness Committee), set up in each coastal district, uses the dynamic fisherfolk networks to monitor activities across the fishing grounds and to report any suspicious activity to a toll-free number --- 1093 --- which routes the call automatically to the nearest coastal police station.
Although policing is a state subject, all this is paid for by New Delhi, through a lump sum allocation of Rs 400 crores for setting up the coastal police network, and Rs 150 crores each year for running expenses, including fuel and maintenance for the boats.
India’s 7600-kilometre maritime border runs through 9 states --- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal --- and 4 union territories: Daman & Diu; Lakshadweep; Puducheri; and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. After the Mumbai terror attack of 26/11, New Delhi decided that the desperately needed coastal police network could not be held hostage to the precarious financial situation of many states.
Besides funding, New Delhi also allocated clear responsibilities for coastal security. The Cabinet Committee for Security (CCS), meeting soon after 26/11, charged the Indian Navy with overall responsibility for maritime security. The Coast Guard was made responsible for security within India’s territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from the shore. The new coastal police stations would maintain security up to 5 nautical miles (about 9 kilometres) from the coast, as well as on the shore.
Despite this new clarity the difficulties in implementing the Coastal Security Scheme are staggering, involving the monitoring of 3331 designated coastal villages, tens of thousands of fishing boats, and securing dozens of major and non-major ports and harbours.
This will be achieved, senior MoHA officials tell Business Standard, with the help of three ongoing initiatives:
(a) The issue of biometric identity cards to all fishermen. This is being handled by state governments, with the Department of Fisheries as the nodal agency. In Kerala, for example, ITT Palakkad has already begun collecting biometric data from the fisherfolk community. The MoHA is funding this initiative with Rs 25-30 crores as start-up money.
(b) The National Population Register, being compiled by the Registrar General of India for the 2011 census, has been fast tracked for coastal regions. This process will be linked with the smart card initiative mentioned above.
(c) The third initiative requires the registration of all sailing vessels under the Department of Fisheries. Already, boats larger than 20 feet require an Auto Identification System, without which they would be treated as potentially unfriendly vessels. Now, the Ministry of Shipping is studying a Ministry of Defence request to make this compulsory even for boats below 20 feet length.
Although the navy has been given overall responsibility for coastal security, the coast guard --- which also safeguards India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.08 million square kilometres --- is being rapidly expanded for the Coastal Security Scheme. On 25th October, Defence Minister Antony informed senior Coast Guard commanders that the coast guard had been sanctioned an additional 4026 personnel, a strength increase of more than 30%. And the coast guard’s current fleet of 91 surface ships and 45 aircraft is being more than doubled.
But the physical policing of the coastline and territorial water is just one dimension of the Coastal Security Scheme. Also nearing completion is a high-tech surveillance network for keeping a 24x7 visual and electronic watch over the approaches to India’s coastline.
(Tomorrow: Safeguarding the coastline: India’s electronic fence)