Here’s how both, UPA 2, and Modi Government have been ignoring loopholes in the coastal security: By Nitten Gokhaley
• The information obtained via the RTI revealed shocking lapses in coastal security.
• In December 2008, the UPA Government (cabinet committee on security) assigned the surveillance and security task to the Central Board of Excise and Customs Department for patrolling the country’s west and east coast.
• Patrolling boats in category 1 and 2 are expected to patrol for 100 hours per month while those in the category 3A and 3B need to patrol for 60 hours.
• Surprisingly, between 2013 and 2016, the customs department vessels patrolled less than 15 percent of the hours compared to what they were expected to complete. In some cases, they finished just five to ten percent of patrolling during the concerned timeframe as per information obtained by the activists.
• Out of the overall patrolling 109 boats, around 50 percent are not even functional anymore due to lack of maintenance.
• Some of these vessels are lying under their plastic covers for several years now. You would find some of them at the Darukhana yard in Mumbai.
• After failing to receive any revert from the MoH, NSA, and the PMO, activist Nishant Sharma filed a petition ((PIL No-1/2019) in the Mumbai HC urging the court to form a committee for fixing responsibility.
• As the lapses indicated happen to be from both, the UPA (2013-14) as well as the NDA (2015-2016) rule, it certainly cannot be given a political color.
Simply put, the patrolling vessels working under the Central Board of Excise and Customs Department completed just around 15 percent of the minimum patrolling hours assigned to them. Here’re the details.
Safe hands, really?
Until January, the critical issues for debate were jobs, rural distress, Rafale, and the negative impact of GST, demonetization. Since Pulwama attack and Balakot airstrike, all these factors have been swept aside, and national security, as well as the anti-Pakistan feeling, is getting more limelight.
The ruling party claims India is in safe hands. Their leaders suggest no other government in the country’s history took national security and terrorism seriously. However, a petition filed in the Bombay High Court during January this year highlights serious lapses and questions the government’s way of handling even the basic coastal security.
Who are the stakeholders in coastal security?
Simply put, the Navy, Coast Guard, the Coastal Police, and Customs Department work together for managing various aspects of the coastal security. Their area of operation, 7,600 kilometers coastline, has a lot of gaps and filling them up is a difficult task. Thus, they need to coordinate with a host of organizations and departments of government, including the radar stations, national operations center for coastal activities.
As pointed out by several naval analysts, most of the stakeholders, including coastal police lack human resources for policing and constabulary functions. The coastal police in Mumbai are struggling to find the workforce to be trained and sent for patrolling. They need men who have salt in their veins. As of now, to compensate for the less workforce, the Coast Guard, Navy, as well as police have provided mobile phones to fishers in various coastal areas so that they can call the national operations center in case if they notice any suspicious activities.
India’s maritime vulnerability came into focus after 26/11. Many lessons were learned in the tragic experience.
As a part of country’s initiatives to beef-up coastal security in December 2008, the UPA Government (cabinet committee on security) assigned the surveillance and security task to the Central Board of Excise and Customs Department for patrolling the west and east coast. New boats were handed over for the surveillance and security initiative. The operation involved coordinating with state police, border security force and coast guard across India.
According to the guidelines set by the Customs’ Directorate of Logistics (DoL), all the category 1, and 2 vessels are expected to patrol for 100 hours per month while those in the category 3A and 3B need to patrol for 60 hours.
The patrolling is crucial for the customs department as it focuses on the prevention of tax evasion, smuggling, human trafficking, and terrorist activities in the areas under their jurisdiction.
As mentioned earlier, the department was tasked with patrolling the coast after the deadly 26/11 attacks. Since then, the customs department has 109 different types of sea vessels at their disposal.
RTI applications were filed to get the data regarding patrolling kilometers completed by these vessels in various states. Surprisingly, between 2013 and 2016, the customs department vessels patrolled less than 15 percent of the hours compared to what they were expected to complete. In some cases, they finished just five to ten percent of patrolling during the concerned timeframe as per information obtained by the activists. Out of the overall patrolling boats, 50 percent are not even functional anymore due to lack of maintenance.
“This is the organization expected to protect our coastline. But they have left it vulnerable. The matter was listed in front of Bombay HC Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice NM Jamdar on Monday, March 18. However, no one showed up on behalf of the Union of India (all the concerned departments) in spite of serving the copy of petition earlier,” said Dharam Raj, who is representing the petitioners (PIL No-1/2019) in the court.
“Boats were also allotted to Mumbai police for patrolling task after 26/11. Currently, many of them have developed rust, and engines are not operational anymore. These vessels are lying under their plastic covers for several years now. You would find some of them at the Darukhana yard in Mumbai. Perhaps, the most critical problem is the fact that police officers who are supposed to go for patrolling in these boats are not expert in diving or even swimming, said Mumbai-based senior journalist Shahid Ansari who has instantaneous knowledge regarding the misadventures of the concerned department’s officials and has covered several stories on the same.
As pointed out by the former Director for Naval intelligence and naval analyst, Ranjit Rai during one of the debates, the ports, and maritime dockyard are secured and cannot be entered without biometric authentication. But, areas besides the port remain vulnerable even today. Patrolling is the need of the hour.
In June 2016, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had chaired a meeting consisting of home ministers and bureaucrats from 13 states to discuss coastal security. He promised more OPVs, interceptor boats, and small boats for Navy, Coastguard, and marine police along with new radar stations, and a new joint operations center to monitor India’s coastline. Singh had also promised to ensure all the fishing boats in India get AIS; fishers get biometric cards and biometric card readers for security agencies. Unfortunately, very little has been done to fulfill these commitments.
The coastal defense exercise, Sea Vigil, conducted on January 22 and 23 was indeed impressive, unprecedented. But, numbers obtained from Customs’ Directorate of Logistics paint a different picture. When this journalist reached out to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the National Security Adviser’s office with all the details for their reaction, they did not even bother to revert. If it is not a lapse on their part, they could have had credibly explained so. Now, petitioners are waiting for the honorable Bombay High Court to decide the action.