Nine years ago, Pakistani sea-borne terrorists Ajmal Kasab and his band of brothers breached the Indian coastline in Mumbai and wreaked havoc across the country's financial capital.
The security and intelligence community was "sea blind" despite the Raigad coastline being breached in 1993 to land contraband and explosives that facilitated the Mumbai serial bomb blasts. The late M K Dhar, former special director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), acknowledges this in his book Open Secrets: India's Intelligence Unveiled, 2005.
"The Coast Guard in its present form protects the territorial waters of the nation and prevents smuggling and poaching activities. It, however, paid more attention to the blue waters. It did not maintain regular vigil on the shallow waters, the minor ports and unspecified shallow landing sites. It was not designed to carry out the sieve work to filter the flourishing dhow (boat) traffic between India, Pakistan and the Gulf destinationsâ€¦There was initial resistance from the IB units in the coastal states. In most cases, they did not have the workforce. More importantly, they had no training in generating maritime intelligence that affected the shallow waters and connected the external inimical forces with the internal saboteurs..."
The problem is that the coastal state governments believe that the navy and the coast guard can manage coastal security. This thinking, however, is flawed because their marine platforms are only oriented to sail in the deep seas and not coastal waters which from the coastline extend 12 nautical miles into the sea.
These waters have a high density of smaller craft like fishing boats, mechanised trawlers and dhows which becomes the responsibility of the state police coastal/marine police forces.
The threat to coastal security would arise from this swathe of the sea up to 12 nautical miles, which only the coastal security police would be able to manage. While the nine coastal states and four Union territories have their coastal/marine security police forces, the priorities of the police leadership are concerned elsewhere with law and order, crime detection, which are duties focused on the mainland than the sea.
As a result, the state police forces do not accord coastal security the attention it deserves in terms of training, equipment and boats. Clearly, a dedicated police force trained to exclusively patrol the shallow waters can ensure the necessary level of coastal security.
Dhar writes: "In fact, there is a case for the creation of a Central Coastal Security Force, appropriately equipped with modern boats and communication and surveillance equipment. It should be de-linked from the Border Security Force, the Coast Guard and the state police. It may be mandated to have regular liaison with the Coast Guard and other land-based enforcement units. There is an urgent requirement of involving the state police machinery and upgrading their capability to guard the vulnerable pockets along their respective coastlines. I hope the security planners will pay adequate attention to this requirement before another catastrophe hits the nation."
In June 2016, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavais mooted the proposal to raise a Central Marine Police Force at a meeting to review the status of the country's coastal security management at Mumbai. The country has a poor police to population ratio with just one policeman for 761 people, which translates into approximately 131 policemen per lakh population.
India has fewer policeman per capita compared to most other countries. Ideally, a policeman should cater to just 568 people at the rate of 176 policemen per lakh population, according to the Indian Bureau of Police Research and Development. However, for every Indian VIP, there are three police personnel to protect him/her, given that 47,557 police personnel protect 14,842 VIPs across the country.
Therefore to expect the state police forces to prioritise coastal security is unrealistic. The creation of a Central Marine Police Force would relieve the state police forces of additional responsibility for coastal security.
What role should the Centre play in coastal security management, considering the fact that law and order is a State subject? The Centre contributes considerably to the coastal security of the nine coastal states and four Union territories in terms of marine platforms and funds to establish coastal security police stations; besides other hardware like beach scooters and night vision devices.
After the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the central government established the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security, with the Cabinet secretary at its head to implement the National Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) project.
The Navy, assisted by the Coast Guard, state marine police forces and other state and central agencies were tasked to undertake the project. The first phase of the project was to provide seamless coverage of India's coastline, which includes installation of a chain of 74 automatic identification system receivers along the coast and 46 coastal radars along the mainland and the islands.
Also, the Ministry of Defence created the Information Management and Analysis Centre and the National Command Control Communication and Intelligence Network in 2014 to collate data on all vessels which operate near the Indian coast from multiple technical sources and includes an automatic identification system and radar chain. These inputs are then integrated and analysed at the MDA centre, which disseminates a common operational picture for coastal security to 51 nodes of the Navy and the Coast Guard positioned along the coastline. Besides, joint operation centres also exist in Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair.
While these high technology solutions to streamline coastal security are impressive, only a Central Marine Police Force amounts to men at sea to plug any gaps. The question is, can terrorists successfully undertake another sea-borne landing or not along the country's 7,517 km-long coastline?
(The writer is professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies, Christ University, Bengaluru)