Coastal security bill caught in red tape

Bill seeks to cover maritime zones, jurisdictions, security
Last Updated 24 May 2015, 18:32 IST

Six years after 26/11, India is far from having a reliable coastal security system in the absence of a crucial piece of legislation, which is stuck in the red tape since 2013.

On the suggestion of the naval headquarters, a draft coastal security bill was prepared delineating the responsibilities and duties of various agencies involved in coastal security. The bill was sent to the Union Home Ministry for bringing it to the Parliament after consulting the coastal states. Two years down the line, the Defence Ministry admits that there is no further development on the coastal security bill. “We are waiting to see the bill is expedited. The issue is being taken up regularly with the cabinet secretary,” Navy Chief Admiral R K Dhowan told Deccan Herald in an interview.

Indian Navy was made the lead agency for coastal security in the wake of the Mumbai attack. The bill seeks to cover aspects related to various jurisdictions, maritime zones and the role of agencies involved in coastal security.

“Who will do what, who is responsible for what and what are the powers that can be given to these agencies are all being mentioned in the bill,” said Dhowan. The bill is vital for the Navy and Indian Coast Guard to discharge their duties as they are not legally empowered at the moment to take actions against suspicious vessels posing security risks.

In the absence of a legal back up, Navy and Coast Guard could do little to check the movement of a large number of floating armouries that sail hugging the Indian coast. While these ships from private maritime security companies came up due to threats from Somali pirates, the Navy asserted they also pose a high security risk to India because of the presence of armed security guards, most of whom are former soldiers with combat training.

“The coastal security bill should be proceeded with utmost priority since it concerns with matters as serious as coastal security,” commented the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in its report.Indian maritime zones are currently governed by two acts administered by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Though an amendment was made to the Maritime Zones of India Act of 1976 to allow the Coast Guard to enforce its provisions, the ICG can not impound vessels and can prosecute only with the approval of the MEA.

Asked about the legal empowerment, Dhowan said, “The issue of granting additional power to the navy and coast guard is interconnected to the coastal security bill, which deals with jurisdiction. Once the coastal security bill is cleared, those issues will be addressed.”

(Published 24 May 2015, 18:32 IST)

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