Coastal security gaps continue to exist

Coastal security gaps continue to exist

Mumbai: People walk past Trident hotel on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, Sunday, November 25, 2018 (PTI Photo/Shashank Parade)

A decade after 26/11, India still doesn't have any means of keeping an eye on more than two lakh small fishing boats, something that Ajmal Kasab and his nine heavily-armed mates used on that fateful night to reach Mumbai to create a mayhem.

Existing regulations make it mandatory for installation of automated identification system (AIS) in fishing boats bigger than 20 mt in length. The AIS constantly transmits its signals that can be picked up by the ground-based stations to establish its identity.

But there no such option available when it comes to smaller fishing boats. Over 2.2 lakh boats in the coastal states, nearly 60,000 goes to the sea every day.

Ten years after the Mumbai attack, the authorities responsible for securing India's coastline continue to struggle to keep an eye on these boats.

It's not that technological solutions don't exist. State-owned Bharat Electronics Limited came out with an ID-system that can be installed in those boats for monitoring. The unresolved issue is who would pay for the gadget costing about Rs 20,000 apiece.

“Its still a work in progress,” admits a Navy official when asked about the gaps in the coastal security net. After the Mumbai attack, the Indian Navy was made the lead agency responsible for securing the coast, but Navy sources said installing those instruments were the responsibility of state government as they control the fishing activities.

In the absence of any technological solution, Navy and Coast Guard rely extensively on the fishermen community who they claim are the “ears and eyes” of the coastal security net. Close to 68 lakh people in 3,300 coastal villages have been given biometric identity cards to weed out the strangers.

Last year, the defence ministry approved second phase of the coastal radar network under which 42 additional coastal radar stations would be installed to secure the 7,500 km of Indian coastline, out of which 5,700 km are in the mainland.

A massive coastal security exercise named Sea Vigil involving the coastal states, island territories and central and state agencies will be held in January, 2019 to find out ways to plug the security gaps.

“The country is now better prepared and better organised as we have a multi-layered security architecture for coastal security. But tracking the movement of thousands of fishing boats round-the-clock is a major challenge,” Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said in an interview to a news agency.