Lately, our obscure but pristine tourist spot Lakshadweep, archipelago located 200 to 440 km off the mainland’s southwestern coastin the Arabian Sea was in the news for not so very good reasons. Lakshadweep is India's smallest single district Union Territory (UT) consisting of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq km comprising 12 atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks and ten inhabited islands with population around 65,000 of the indigenous Malayali Sunni Muslims akin to the nearest Indian state of Kerala. The archipelago has an airport on Agatti Island.
The main occupation of the people is, coconut cultivation, fishing while tourism is picking up rather fast. Since islands are geo-strategically located along the Indian Ocean shipping lanes from the Middle East to South East Asia and the Far East, for the security of country exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the Islands security the Indian Navy has established INS Dweeprakshak on Kavaratti Island. Praful Khoda Patel, former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and Minister of State of Home Affairs in Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) Government in Gujarat is UT’s Administrator.
He lost 2012 Gujarat State Legislative election and rehabilitated as the Administrator of the union territories of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu. After the death of Dineshwar Sharma, Administrator of Lakshadweep, Patel also took over additional charge as Administrator of the UT of Lakshadweep from 5 Dec 2020. There has been wide spread resentment in Lakshadweep over Patel’s orders that include ban on the sale of beef, cow slaughter, prohibiting those having more than two children from contesting local body elections, restrictions on sale and consumption of alcohol (very essential for developing tourism), changes in land ownership policies and pandemic protocols.
Many BJP party leaders and workers have quit party in protests and serious resentment against Lakshadweep’s film maker Aisha Sultana who on the Malayali TV news channel stated that UT Administrator Patel was being used as bio-weapon’ or words to that effect‘and she has been charged for sedition. ‘Black Day’ was observed when he as the Administrator arrived on 14 Jun 2021, in Lakshadweep as his political agenda, outweighed local cultural, religious, tourism and overall security concerns.
On 18 Mar 2021, three Sri Lankan boats were apprehended by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard off the Lakshadweep coast carrying 300 kg of heroin worth Rs 3,000 crores in the international market, 5 AK 47 rifles and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. In a similar another operation on 5 Mar, Sri Lankan boat 200 kg high grade heroin and 60kg hashish were apprehended.
In last one year 1.6 tons of narcotics worth approximately Rs 4,900 crores had been captured from unauthorised foreign boats trespassing in our large EEZ bordering to the west by Pakistan, to the south by the Maldives and Sri Lanka and Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, to the east by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Besides, the Lakshadweep Archipelago, other islands and geographical features along our coast that have geo-strategic location and importance are discussed in details below.
The Sir Creek is a 96 km narrow strip water way strip disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshy lands. The creek opens up into the Arabian Sea, divides the Kutch region of the Indian state Gujarat with the Sindh province of Pakistan. It is named after the British representative who was requested to mediate in a dispute between the ruler of Sindh and the Rao of Kutch over a pile of firewood lying on the banks of the nearby Kori creek.
The long-standing dispute hinges in the actual demarcation ‘from the mouth of Sir Creek to the top of Sir Creek, and from the top of Sir Creek eastward to a point on the line designated on the Western Terminus’. From this point onwards, the boundary is unambiguously fixed as defined by the Tribunal Award of 1968.
The creek itself is located in the uninhabited marshlands. During the monsoon season between June and September, the creek floods its banks and envelops the low-lying salty mudflats around it. During the winter season, the area is home to flamingoes and other migratory birds.
This small Strait is located between the Tamil Nadu state of India and the Mannar district of the northern province of Sri Lanka connecting the Bay of Bengal in the northeast with the Palk Bay and thence with the Gulf of Mannar in the southwest. The shallow strait is 64 to 137 km wide and 137 km in length. The strait is named after Robert Palk, who was a governor of Madras Presidency (1755-1763) during the East India Company rule.
Large ships cannot navigate through the shallow waters and reefs but fishing boats and small craft carrying coastal trade have navigated the strait for centuries and can be misused by smugglers, terror groups like the LTTE and fishing and human trafficking. Large ships must travel around Sri Lanka. Construction of a shipping canal through the strait has been proposed numerous times but stalled over religious grounds and beliefs of many Hindu Indians.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
This UT of India is a group of islands at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. There are 572 islands in the territory but only 34 are permanently inhabited. The territory is 27 km from Coco islands of Myanmar and 150 km from Indonesian western most area Aceh, riddled with Free Aceh Movement and separated from Thailand and Burma by the Andaman Sea. It comprises two island groups, the Andaman and the Nicobar Islands.
The territory's capital is Port Blair where Indian armed forces’ Tri Service Andaman & Nicobar Command is located. Considering its sensitivity, geo-strategic location and importance, resources to launch or counter amphibious operations against any impending conventional threat are meager and many uninhabited islands were believed to be misused by the LTTE for hiding arms and ammunition during their struggle against Sri Lanka for separate Tamil Elam.
On 26 Dec 2004 the coasts of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated by a 10 m high tsunami following the oceanic earthquake killing over 2,000 people while more than 4,000 children were orphaned and over 40,000 people were rendered homeless. With tropical rainforests, rare fauna and flora, while tourism is thriving industry, strategically these islands are very sensitive to dominate the Indian Ocean and protect our extensive EEC spread.
The Sunderbans, the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forestin the world declared as the UNESCO World Heritage most of which is situated in Bangladesh and the remaining in India. This region is densely covered by mangrove forests, having a National Park and the largest reserves for the Royal Bengal tigers. Poverty, environmental crisis and the increasing impacts of climate changes, floods, rise in sea level, banks and coastal land erosion, salination of agricultural land with sea water have resulted in loss of fertile agriculture land in Bangladesh resulting in exodus of coastal population entering India.
The mangroves, corruption and poor surveillance are ideal for the Bangladeshis illegal influx to the Indian parts of the Sunderbans. It is estimated that there are 2.6 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India besides many Pakistanis, Nepalese, Afghans, Sri Lankan Tamils and Rohingaya refugees from Myanmar ethnically merge with the local population causing gravest internal security problem for our country.
The highly porous, heavily populated and cultivated extensively India-Bangladesh border passes through West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram facilitating illegal migration that has adversely changed demography, culture, politics and security concerns in these states.
The stretch consists of plains, hills and jungle with hardly any major obstacles. Therefore, checking illegal cross border activities are indeed most challenging with meager, ill-trained, ill-equipped, complacent and corrupt police forces, customs and immigration staff deployed on the integrated check posts (ICPs). The ethnic affinity in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Gujarat and other states helps illegal migrants to merge with the local population.
India has approximately 1382 islands but very few are populated. Many of us may not be aware that there are 55 islands across 1,600 km long Gujarat state with over 42 ports. Five out of these islands have human population, while the rest are uninhabited. These are extensively misused by hawala operators, arms, ammunition, drugs, explosive and crude smugglers from the Middle-East, keeping the Marine Police, the Indian Coast Guard, and the Indian Navy on high alert to pre-empt Pakistan sponsored terror attacks but the resources are too meagre for too big a task.
Mumbai itself is Archipelago of 7 densely populated islands with two major ports, highly vulnerable from sea borne terror attacks and country cannot forget, the dastardly ‘26/11 Pakistani sponsored series of ‘Fedayeen attacks’ carried by 10 Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT) Islamist terrorists. In May 2005 at Mumbai Port major arms seizure was made from containers coming from Singapore. Recently consignment of 200 kg Cocaine was seized from container arriving from Ecuador / Hong Kong.
Maharashtra’s Arabian Sea coast has nearly 18 islands, Karnataka 7, Goa 17, Kerala approximately 20, Tamil Nadu 6-8 in Gulf of Mannar, Andhra Pradesh 7 and Orissa and West Bengal are dotted with few and the figures are approximate as no Islands census data is available but mentioned to highlight maritime security threats to our island, ports and coastal territories that can be misused by the smugglers, pirates, terrorist groups and countries inimical to India.
Major Strategic Significance of Indian Ocean
India has coast line of 7516.6 km runs through the states of Gujarat, with the longest coast line, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, UTs of Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep, Pondicherry and Andaman & Nicobar. India shares its maritime boundary with Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
India has 13 major ports, 17 medium or intermediate, 4 private and 173 minor ports besides numerous fishing ports and harbours and 187 minor ports besides over 1000 landing places and numerous unmanned jetties. There may be some variation in the numbers of ports and their locations as many new ports are coming up while some older minor ones abandoned or upgraded.
In most of our major ports in the public domain, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is deployed, which is reinforced by the state police and Home Guards. In all other ports, private security is deployed. Due to emerging land, sea and airborne threats, the security and surveillance of all our ports needs to be modernized and optimized with trained manpower, technology and deployment of IN, ICG and Marine Police.
About quarterof world’s population and one third of world’s nationsform part of Indian Ocean and it is highway for quarter of the world’s trade and global oil needs. Over 40-50,000 ships annually transport critical raw materials and oil suppliesthrough the Indian Ocean having major choke points at Straits of Malacca and Gulf of Aden-Sunda and Bab el Mandeb, alarming piracy threat and quick attacks on merchant ships from the Somalia, Gulf of Aden and Malacca Straits.
The pirates also use captured merchant ships as ‘mother vessels’to launch attacks on unsuspecting merchant vessels. India’s 65%energy needs are met through the Indian Ocean routes and its coastal areas are developing fast with giant strategic industries. India has emotional bond as this is the only ocean in the world on a country’s name.
Why Indian Ocean is ‘A Big Powers Game?
‘The three big players’ namely China, India, and the US have the resources and willpower to dominate Indian Ocean due to their geo-strategic interests followed by the ‘regional players trying to influence their personal interests that include Australia, France, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
Lastly, there are ‘passive players’ who are not in a position to influence but will be courted by larger players to meet their strategic interests and include Bangladesh, Djibouti, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Oman, the Seychelles, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Yemen. Remote islands and overseas territories in the Indian Ocean could also be important players. The network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication (SLOC) also called ‘String of Pearls’ extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan.
The Chinese are systematically keeping long time geo-strategic interests by having their presence in Hainan Island (underwater submarine base), Woody/Paracel Islands, Spratly islands, domination of Philippines and Vietnam, construction of Kra Isthumus to bypass Strait of Malacca and ports in Burma, Bangladesh (Chittagong), Sri Lanka (Hambantota)and Bagamoyo (Tanzania).
In 2017, Sri Lanka had given Hambantota port, 250 km from South of Colombo to China on a 99-year lease and knowing the Chinese security threats, India is wary of the increasing Chinese footprints in the neighbouring country as Chinese military submarines have been docking in the port adversely undermining Sri Lankan sovereignty and security in the Indian Ocean.
Too close for India’s comfort, Myanmar had agreement with China a few years back to develop a deep-sea port in Kyaukpyu in Bay of Bengal. China has already helped build port in Gwadar in Pakistan and funding the development of the Chittagong port in Bangladesh choking India with 4 ports in our periphery. All such Chinese activities of great strategic significance to China facilitating easy maritime operations in the South China Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The geo-strategic security experts feel, Chinese construction of ports in these poor smaller countries and the ‘Belt Road Initiative’ (BRI) are guised Chinese debt traps threatening their sovereignty.
The Chinese unlike the US, aggressively bulldoze their neighbours. On 14 Jun 2021 as reported by the Times of India (TOI) had the largest incursion in the recent times of 28 Chinese fighter jets including nuclear delivery bombers violating Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). The G-7 nations issued a warning calling upon China for peaceful resolution of the cross-Taiwan Strait issues but the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated ’interfering in China’s internal affairs.’ They have been bullying Asia- Pacific region along the South China Sea and India along its northern borders especially in the eastern Ladakh. Meanwhile, President Biden also issued warning to Putin who after dismemberment of the Soviet Union is closer to expansionist China and that the US will respond to actions against its national interests.
The US Fifth Fleet is located in Manama, Bahrain while the Seventh Fleet is based in Yokosua, Japan. It has Diego Garcia as big communication, naval and air force base and friendly relations with most of the Middle East Countries, Pakistan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
To protect our long term commercial and security interests, India not only needs to be economically and militarily strong and develop ‘protect west and look east’ strategy or else we would remain only a soft power always vulnerable to China both along the northern Himalayan borders and the blue waters along its western, eastern and the southern EEZ periphery. Wary of Chinese assertiveness in South China Sea, Vietnam wants India to ‘rise quickly’ in the region.
The decision to form the informal strategic dialogue QUAD Group by India, Japan, Australia and the US with shared objectives is to ensure Chinese containment in the Indo-Pacific region and must be further strengthened with large support from the UK, EU and the countries located in the West Asia and the South East Asia. On 16 Jun 2021, the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in his online address at the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), rightly made it clear to China that for the maritime securityin inclusive Indo-Pacific region, India supports freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Security Implications for India
There is constant threat of 26/11 Mumbai like Pak supported LeT attacks where in terrorists sailing from Karachi, across the Arabian sea, hijacked the Indian fishing trawler 'Kuber', killed the crew of four forcing captain to sail to Mumbai to unleash their mayhem. Constant piracy threats exist from the ‘Horn of Africa’ nations to ‘Malacca Straits’ in the form of small fast attack crafts on merchant ships. The pirates also use captured merchant ships as ‘mother vessels’ to mount attacks on unsuspecting merchant ships.
The Lakshadweep archipelago has witnessed increasing number of pirate attacks in the past couple of years is close to Muslim Maldives island state that provides suitable launch pads to Muslim terrorist groups for carrying out clandestine attacks on the Indian Peninsula. The uninhabited islands provide ideal environment for clandestine operations due to our poor surveillance. The Coast Guard and the Indian Navy have often foiled pirates’ attacks but these could be just a tip of the piracy iceberg.
India has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind its EEZ stretching to 200 nm all along the coast. The Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar groups of islands are closer to Burmese, Indonesian and Malaysian reach. Many inhabited islands were believed to have been misused by the LTTE for hiding arms and ammunition.
In Palk Strait, both India and Sri Lanka often capture fishermen and boats of each other that often trespass the imaginary sea boundary leading to violent clashes and strained relations. LTTE used effectively the shallow waters in the garb of fishermen to escape in to Tamil Nadu and Kerala during the wake of Sri Lankan Armed Forces operations against them.
The Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PSMA) and Sri Lanka regularly capture Indian fishermen with their boats in disputed Sir Creek and Palk Strait respectively. Besides piracy and smuggling of arms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and fake Indian currency notes FICN due to poor vigilance and surveillance fishing trawls from Africa to North Korea and China do illegal poaching and fishing often in long spread Indian EEZ.
Our all maritime assets are vulnerable from the sea, land, air and terrorist threats. Pan Islamic outfits specially the LeT having blue water capability and so had the defunct LTTE that had both blue water air capabilities to escalate terrorism on high seas, our islands and the coastal areas. Pak fishermen and ISI sponsored elements operate freely in the high seas, Indian EEZ and costal belt and so are the threats from the Bangladeshi settlers discussed earlier. We also do not have essential Gamma Ray scanners for scanning cargo in every port proposed for detection of radio-active materials, arms, ammunition and explosives.
There are reports of unauthorized landings of Bangladeshi (BD) vessels en-route to Kolkata Port in the absence of proper surveillance and often BD sailors go missing after disembarking at Kolkata. Cases of piracy by armed and unarmed fishermen/boatmen boarding ships at anchorage and incidents of seamen with fake Continuous Discharge Certificates (CDCs) in the past were reported.
These could be misused by inimical forces to infiltrate terrorists and stowaways into ships for nefarious activities. Activities like smuggling of arms ammunition and explosives, drugs and human trafficking, clandestine consignments of fake Indian currency notes (FICN) and thefts from containers, bulk storages, warehouses, personnel and buildings of the ports are on the increase.
There are specific sensitive needs for proper and speedy relocation offishing harbours considered as security hazard for ports like Murmagao, Tuticorin, Paradip, and Mangalore. Threats to port infrastructure including buildings, telecom, IT, buoys, ships, crews, passengers, port employees and visitors should be countered speedily.
Areas of Responsibilities of Various Agencies
There are large numbers of agencies involved in manning our maritime assets. Each costal State Marine Police (SMP) is responsible for the security from the coast to 12 nautical miles (NMs). The Indian Coast Guards (ICG) is responsible for the security from 12 NM to EEZ or 200 NMs. While the Indian Navy (IN) with blue water capability is responsible for the security in the high seas.
The Border Security Force (BSF) in responsible for the security of the coastal areas of Rann of Kutch and Sunderbans. Besides these, Customs, Department of Revenue Intelligence DRI), Ministry of Shipping, , Ministries of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, Shipping and Director General (DG) Shipping, States’ Departments of fisheries, DG Lightships and Lighthouses (DGLL) and respective port authorities operate and are responsible of their respective security management.
With so many agencies operating in the coastal areas, joint patrolling, surveillance, communication, coordination for any joint operations are most difficult. Turf battles and lack of synergy among numerous agencies have long been the problem all along our land borders and coastal region in optimizing security.
Methodology to Enhance Maritime Security
Without Implementation of International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code no maritime trade activity can be carried. All 12 major portshave implemented it. This must be implemented on all other ports also. As per the ISPS code, installation of Automatic Identification System (AIS) is mandatory on all vessels over 300 gross registered tonnages (GRT) and or over 20 meter length. It is also desirable to have GPS and VHF communication on these vessels. Boats below this tonnage are big security hazard.
AIS system shows other ships, vessel's location and other identifying data including present course and speed. Essentially, a ship has a special AIS radio that continually broadcasts its data and receives the data from other ships, usually visually displaying ships on a chart of map display. Efforts to get AIS on smaller trawlers and boats have not worked out. 26/11 attack was carried out by the Pakistani supported terrorists by hijacking Kuber, a small fishing boat in the high sea, killing the captain, and sailing unchallenged to Mumbai.
A satellite-based two-way communicating transponder developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is currently under trials for fitment on smaller boats. Numerous unmanned jetties and landing points along the coast are security hazard. Most of illegal activities like smuggling etc. are carried out through these unmanned jetties and landing points.
Communication networking for sharing information, intelligence and better response mechanism amongst IN, ICG, Marine Police, Customs, DRI, Ports, DG Shipping, BSF Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other state authorities is urgently needed. More than equipment, training and rehearsals are important and need to be standardized on priority.
There is constant need to expedite setting chain of Static Coastal Radar or the coastal AIS network and task has been given to DGLL & Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) under the Ministry of Shipping. This needs to be expedited. All ports must have prescribed Security Standards and cyber security assumes greater importance with emphasis on high technologysince terrorists and smugglers have become tech savvy.
Effective Command, Control and Communication Centre (C4) should be established. It should be the nerve centre to control all maritime activities and operations effectively. All port employees should be issued tamper proof biometric Identity Card. Verification of character and antecedents (c&a)of all the port employees, re-verification of the employees on the sensitive assignments should be under taken periodically. Verification of contract labour & AMC providers also must be ensured.
The existing Special Marine Force unfortunately is another inefficient and corrupt police organization. The proposal to compulsorily deploymentof the well trained marine wing police, raised under the Coast Guard is the need of the hour at all ports and shipyards for optimum command, control and coordination.
According to late Shri EN Rammohan, eminent former Director General (DG) of the BSF, in his article ‘Lessons Learnt from the 26-11-2008, Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba Raid on Mumbai’ published in the USI October-December 2013 issue, the Central Government Customs and the Mumbai Police were reported to be on the pay rolls of Dawood Ibrahim. The ‘committed bureaucracy, and judiciary pose another serious threat to good governance and national security.
Installation of non-Intrusive Container Inspection and Radiation Detection Systems on all ports should be expedited and advance information about the arrival of passengers and cargo ships to ports must be ensured. All ports, shipyards and coastal installations should earmark expenditure on security in detail project report (DPR) stage.
There is urgent need to integrate various intelligence agencies under the Lead Intelligence Agency (LIA) which is the Indian Navy now. All ports and EEZ should be declared as ‘No Fishing Zones’ for the foreign vessels. There is need to have a Maritime &Coastal Operational Threat Response Plan (COPTRP) that should review sea threats periodically.
There are large numbers of vital and sensitive oil, shipping and nuclear installations along the coast whose security needs to be optimized. Extremely sensitive installations of Atomic Energy, Space, Defence, Power, Petroleum, Ship building and Natural Gas and ships are located both in the East and the West coasts. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Goa Shipyards have received LeT threats while Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) and Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) are vulnerable to LTTE threats.
Other important offshore installations are also under constant threats. There are many expensive off shore floating facilities, mobile drilling rigs, submersible pipelines etc and our 67 % indigenous oil and gas production comes from offshore installations which are extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. All our off shore installations get their logistics support through the offshore Support vessels. All these vessels are security cleared in harbours prior to their departure, but there after there are no checks to deter embarkation of undesired elements / cargo.
The smaller unguarded ports, landing points, fishing ports and jetties etc. are extremely vulnerable for illegal un-checked entry for clandestine operations. In many ports heavier Chinese cranes have been installed as they are cheaper than the erstwhile German or the Japanese equipment. The Chinese insist in MOUs presence of the Chinese engineers and technicians as the manuals are provided in the Chinese only. Therefore, there is large presence of the Chinese in our major ports. To tackle Somalian pirates, the Chinese Navy has deployed some destroyers and supply ships in Indian Ocean. Chinese domination has long term security implications for India.
India imports large quantities of iron/steel scrap from the Middle East including Iran, Iraq and Kuwait for fabricating. There have been cases these containers were found carrying live ammunition leading to explosions in the Bhushan Steel Mills in Ghaziabad. USA has launched a Container Security Initiative under which container scanner was installed at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) but it was not very effective. We need to optimize appropriate technology in this field.
Along the Gujarat coast, the Pakistani fishermen are caught in Indian waters regularly. Fishing boats of Taiwan, China, Thailand and Dubai based owners are often found off the West Coast, the East Coast and in the Palk Strait Sri Lankan fishing and smuggling boats infiltrate regularly. Terrorists can use neutral / clandestinely chartered or Flag of Convenience merchant ships or explosive laden small boats to deliberately collide with merchant ships or offshore platforms.
Recruiting right crew by the Indian shipping companies is a big challenge as many times seamen with dubious credentials get enrolled. Foreigners working in oil exploration or other marine sectors should be thoroughly vetted by IB/ Immigration checks. Iissuance of the AADHAR/biometric identity cardsshould be expedited. It has been rather too late to launch the pilot project which in fact should have been completed three decades back.
1 Km radius area around off shore installations should be declared as ‘No Fishing Zones’. The Gujarat state had in 2014 decided to create a special force to secure its key non-major ports against terrorist oil spills to create hazards for ships and ports. Rather than each state having its own force and legislation, there is need to have centralized policy implemented and monitored at national scale to ensure neither grey areas are left nor overlapping done.
The Coastal Security Scheme formulated in 2006 for strengthening infrastructure for patrolling and surveillance of country's 9 coastal States and 4 Union territories to check and counter illegal cross border and criminal activities using the coast or sea should be expedited. The scheme had envisaged setting of 73 coastal police stations equipped with 204 boats, 149 jeeps and 318 motorcycles for mobility on coast and in close coastal waters.
The coastal police stations were required to have component of marine police personnel trained in maritime activities. A lump sum assistance of Rs.10 lakh per police station given was too meagre for equipment, computer, furniture etc and many boasts were not functional for want of fuel and repairs. The Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar groups of islands and Palk Strait should act as static naval basesfor long range surveillance, reconnaissance and interdiction aircraft for projecting a cutting edge and offensive capability in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean as forward bases, around 900 km from the Indian mainland, without resorting to air to air refueling.
Also, to dominate our strategic interests in the Indian Ocean, it is desirable to establish Anti-Piracy Centres at suitable locations in Lakshadweep and Port Blair. In the absence of dedicated jetties there is problem of berthing of boats of 5 / 12 tons being built for MPSs by GRSE and Goa Shipyard.
Joint patrolling is being done in hired boats having limitation. Proper verification of boat owners and navigators need to be undertaken. These boats have limited speed, endurance and problem in expenditure on fuel /maintenance of boats too.
No Coastal States / UTs have laid down procedure on sale / purchaseor renovation of the boats. Local fishermen community should be involved in coastal/port security. HQ Southern Naval Command Kochi has been fraternizing fishermen of the coastal region of Kerala to make them partners in the coastal security.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is capable of launching required numbers of geo-stationery satellites for coastal /marine communication and to carry out surveillanceof our entire coast line, islands and EEZ. This capability will be force multiplier giving us cutting edge capability over our adversaries operating in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and southern Indian Ocean. We need to provide satellite communication (satcom) to our remotest islands, fishermen, IN, ICG, MPS, Ports and other relevant agencies concerned with marine /coastal security.
India had taken up the important task of construction of 26 radar stations on the atolls of Maldives, there is utmost need to construct radar stations, listening posts and monitoring stations on mainland coast and the islands located in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Jamming stationsshould also be constructed all along coast and these islands to counter any electromagnetic interference during hostilities.
While Pakistan’s mobile signals are available well within our territory, the Indian signals are poor in high seas/Rann of Kutch. As fishermen use mobiles in high seas; ANEs can pass information to our adversaries. The littoral states should take an aggressive stand on piracy in the Indian Ocean and anti- piracy patrolling by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard done to protect Indian flagged ships and ships of other countries in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC).
South East Asia and South West Asia have been identified as two heroin and opium producing region in the world (Golden Triangle & Golden Crescent). Money generated by drug trafficking is pumped in fueling insurgencies. LTTE is known to transport narcotics from Myanmar while the ISI finances its terrorist outfits through drug money from Afghanistan. In Jamnagar fishing boats are regularly caught trading narcotics, arms, ammunition & explosives.
While Somalia along with South East Asia is notorious for piracy surprisingly NO piracy incident in 2019-20 was reported However, Somali pirates continue to possess the capacity to carry out attacks in the Somali basinand wider Indian Ocean. Gulf of Guinea in West Africa is very notorious for piracy attacks too but world’s most dangerous pirates operate in SE Asian waters who steel oil and supplies worth billions of dollars every year.
Naval mission ‘Operation Atlanta’ launched in 2008 by the European Union (EU) off the Horn of Africa reduced number of pirate attacks on merchant ships. While 176 attacks were reported in 2011 in this Western Indian Ocean, in 2012 and 2013 only 7 and 3 attacks were reported. There is urgent need that India with cooperation of ASEAN, EU, and Quad to undertake similar operations from the Horn of Africa to Strait of Malacca periodically to eliminate piracy menace.
Recent Steps Undertaken
Construction of 50 patrol boats were ordered as per ICG specifications of 12 ton and 5 ton capacity to Garden Reach Ship Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata and Mazagaon Docks Limited (MDL), Mumbai. The first set of boats was to be ready by April 2009. Training program for Marine Police has been formalized by ICG and some police personnel have already been trained by ICG at Kochi.
Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) had been tasked to prepare manual on maritime policy / coastal security and a Committee of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), IN, ICG, IB and state police were tasked to write standard Operating procedures (SOPs) for Costal Police Stations. The scales of arms and ammunition for each MPS have been formalized by ICG and BPR&D. ICG had taken over ‘Operation Swan’ in Gujarat from 1 Dec 05. With IN being lead agency now, ICG will work under IN’s command. Joint survey by ICG, MHA and local police for construction of boat jetties for MPS has been completed.
Both Indian Navy (Exercise ’JWALAMUKHI’ from 3-5 Jun 2009) and ICG (Exercise ‘BARRICADE’ from 7-8 Jul 2009) have been carrying series of exercises to validate India’s maritime security needs. India has rightly started joint maritime training ventures with other friendly countries to counter Chinese naval threats. The IN and the Russian Navy in the recent past carried out joint maritime exercise off the Visakhapatnam coast to increase interoperability between the two navies to develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security.
The 32nd edition of India-Indonesia coordinated patrol (IND-INDO CORPAT) was held in Belawan, Indonesia from 11-27 Oct 2018. Under it, ships and aircraft from both countries undertook patrolling on respective sides of 236 nautical miles long International Maritime Boundary. The IN also kick-started with the US on 23 and 24 Jun21, two-day multi-agency military exercise covering India's entire coastline, involving all coastal States and Union Territories, to further bolster maritime security and surveillance and 8 Indian and, US warships conduct maritime drills in the Indian Ocean.
The drills also came at a time when tensions had mounted over China’s activities in the South China Sea, where the US Navy had just conducted a major exercise that involved two carrier strike groups. India and three other Quad member nations with France carried out recently a three-day naval war game in the eastern Indian Ocean in reflection of their growing maritime cooperation amid China's growing efforts to expand influence in the region.
The proposal for raising a new central armed police force - Coastal Border Police Force (CBPF) was being contemplated by the top home ministry officials and chiefs of the central armed police forces (CAPF). Rather than mushrooming another CAPF in the name of CBPF, existing ICG and coastal police should be professionally trained with optimize operational capabilities. Sagarmala Projectto develop our islands, ports and coastal areas was launched in 2003 by the Bajpai government. The project’s name and designation were changed many a times but nothing significant has been achieved to reinforce our maritime security to outwit Chinese PLA Navy’s threats in the Indian Ocean.
Both India and China are rivals for Afro- Asian leadership. India got independence on 15 Aug 1947 and on 1 Oct 1, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared creation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) but China’s prowess is much ahead in scientific, economic, industrial and military capabilities than its rival India. Chinese PLA aims to be great maritime power much to the discomfort of not only India-Pacific region countries, but the US, UK and the EU.
While India makes grandiose plans may it be to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, diplomacy economic, industrial and defence capabilities, our implementation aspects are very poor. For an example, while India planned to construct indigenous air craft carrier Vishal in 2009, in the last 12 years we are not aware when construction would be completed to launch it. The Chinese on the other hand started construction of air craft carrier in 2015 and launched it in 3 years’ time.
Lastly, Rohan Mukherjee, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale- Singapore NUS College, Singapore has written an article in Sunday TOI dated 20 Jun 2021 stating, ‘India’s place in Quad hinges on its ability to counter China, not Covid.’
About the Author
Col NN Bhatia was commissioned into the 13 Kumaon in 1963. He commanded 2 Kumaon (Berar), which is one of the oldest Indian Army Battalions. After retiring from the Army, he served in the Intelligence Bureau, specializing in industrial security and conducted security audits of a number of vital installations. He is a freelance Industrial Security Consultant and a prolific writer on military and industrial security matters. He is deeply involved in the release of 54 Indian POWs languishing in Pakistani jails since the 1971 War. He can be contacted at Email: [email protected]
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)