The coastal boundary of India is considered to be among the longest in the world, one which is currently linked with the emerging geopolitical shifts in the Indo-Pacific, mainly due to the recent geopolitical ‘rivalry’ between the US and China.There are nine states and four Union Territories (UTs), with a coastline extending up to 7,500 kilometres and the territorial limit extendingup to 12 nautical miles from the coast. India’s coastal domain has an important role in terms of domestic production of oil and gas in the country, besidesserious implications for internal security, economic security, political stability, communal harmony and integrity. The article argues that for India, the task of providing security to the vast coastline is a complex phenomenon that should entail coordination between various stakeholders at the domestic level,as well as scaling up engagements in the international security architecture.

 

Institutional Governance

 

For India, the coastline has been the main medium through which a majority of the trade takes place. India’s national security inadvertently hinges upon the manner in which coastal security is undertaken by the State and several authorities, as well asthe emergence of threats from the coastal domain.During the initial phase, coastal security was primarily subsumed under the exclusive mandate of the Indian Navy (IN).But only later did other agencies like Indian Coast Guard (ICG), Air Force, Central Industry Security Force (CISF), Marine Police, Department of Fisheries, Border Security Force’s Water Wing (BSF), Customs and Light House Authority of India come to the fore. This is besides the interplay of agencies like Customs, Marine Police, state police and other related agencies in the contiguous zone.Currently, as many as two dozen Ministries and eight departments of the central government are involved in policy formulation and implementation, in addition to the coastal states and UTs. Besides, there are intelligence agencies like Research and Analysis Wing (RA&W), Intelligence Bureau (IB), multi-agency centres (MAC), with State-level Multi-Agency Centre (SMAC) working as a subsidiary of MAC and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID). The National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS) has been fairly effective in coordinating matters related to coastal security.

 

In any nation state, the strengthening of coastal security is a multi-stakeholder activity, and in this regard, measures and mechanisms continue to be implemented by various Ministries and agencies. These broadly include induction of assets, recruitment of additional manpower, and development of infrastructure, improving information exchange mechanisms, and addressing gaps in the existing systems. A National Command, Control, Communication and Information (NC3I) Network, interconnecting 51 Naval and Coast Guard stations, has been established to develop a Common Operational Picture (COP) between the two agencies. The network will integrate inputs from the chain of static sensors, six stations of the National Automatic Identification System (NAIS), Long Range Identification and Tracking Systems (LRIT) and information from open sources. The Sagar Prahari Bal has been raised by the IN for force protection, and security of naval bases, vital assets and points. Towards strengthening offshore security, immediate support vessels have been procured for patrolling the off-shore development area. The ICG (as Central Coordinating Authority) has been designated as the nodal authority at the national level to deal with the oil spill in Indian waters, under the National Oil Spill-Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP). Later, ICG was involved in successfully dealing with oil spills in 2010 (Mumbai) and in 2017 (Chennai). The IN, Air Force, the Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, coastal state authorities, district administrations, public works, civil defence corps and even organizations like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) have also been part of the disaster response teams. Around 400 projects under Sagarmala have been operationalized (like Operation Swan), while the development radar chain network, known as Coastal Surveillance Radar System (CSRS)with countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, has been swiftly undertaken. Besides,India has launched theInformation Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR)with about two dozen countries through a “collaborative approach” to develop “comprehensive maritime domain awareness”.

 

Threats and Vulnerabilities

 

Themaritime disputes with Pakistan and Sri Lanka have often caused confusion when dealing with coastal security. This is despite a large naval force (ranked seventh in terms of strength worldwide), and a huge potential for operational preparedness as well as situational (domain) awareness. The prominent threats include those of terrorism, piracy, smuggling, human trafficking, weapons smuggling, drug trafficking and related challenges including those related to climate change. Further, these are creating serious implications forinternal security, economic security, political stability, communal harmony and integrity of the nation. This was evident in all attacks in the city of Mumbaisince the 1990s. Further, during the coastal security exercise,the Triton mock-drill, it was found that infiltration and intrusion into coastalstatesby terrorist organizations are a matter of serious concern as well. In mid-July, India's Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) (revamped in 2009) came out with an intelligence report that terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM),was training its members for deep-sea diving to “target strategic assets” of the IN. In terms of India’s crude oil imports through ports and Single Point Moorings (SPMs), India does not have an integrated strategy for their protection, and India’s role in relation to global security framework, defence preparedness and response mechanismis limited.

 

The Way Forward

 

There is a need for capacity building and specialized coastal policing tasks like patrolling, surveillance, interception, intelligence collection, investigation, disaster risk reduction and crisis management, search and rescue operations along the coast.In addition, the creation of institutionalized collaboration, coordination and co-operation among all the stakeholders on coastal security, constant review and periodic upgradation of technology, gadgetry and weaponry are critical. This will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of security and policing in coastal regions, as well as the promotion of welfare measures, and rewarding/incentivizing schemes. This is useful for building morale and motivation level of personnel and community and most importantly help in protecting and upholding the security of the nation and its citizens.The government must also promulgate a policy document on commercial maritime security policyat the national level. This would enable efficient, coordinated, and effective action for the protection of port and shipping infrastructure.

 

Beyond expediting the installation of coastal radar chains and NAIS for broader information access, the authorities must ensure mandatory fitment of NAIS on power-driven vessels. Further, the available technologies could be utilized for increasing security of the coastal domain, specifically using undersea optic fiber network, scalable network technology, satellite spin-off technologies and many “off-the-shelf” and other smart technologies. Experts haverecommended the setting up of marine guards on the lines of home guards by recruiting coastal population from each coastal locality. These trained marine guards would help the coastal security agencies in intelligence gathering, which is a very vital input for the latterin monitoring the movement of personnel and supplies along the vast coastal area. Furthermore, rejuvenation of the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security should be undertaken, and the process of passing the Coastal Security Bill should be accelerated too.

 

The civilian and fishing boats should mandatorily be registered under the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD), a database maintained and real-time information provided for effective functioning, interoperability and coordination. A Coastal Police Headquarters should be constructedwith well-equipped infrastructural facilities.The Headquarters is essential and a prerequisite to monitor as well as control all the coastal security activities throughout respective coastal states. Additionally, the provisions of the ISPS code must be strictly enforced in Indian ports, besides integrating international standards ofthe United Nations-based International Maritime Organization (IMO), particularly in relation to international shipping.Also, measures need to be taken for potential challengesrelated to oil spills (coastal pollutionand environmental protection).Port capabilities must be augmented in accordance with the stipulations of the Oil Spill Contingency Plan of IMO. Additionally, doubling the number of Coastal Police Stations will help prevent and curb the illicit flow of drugs/arms/ammunition/explosives smuggling, and provide an additional line of defence for India.

 

Conclusion

 

Overall, India requires enhancement of a holistic approach to coastal domain awareness, through broader and more efficient coastline surveillance coverage and inter-agency coordination. For India, the task of providing security to the vast coastline is a complex phenomenon and thus should involve multiple stakeholders. The security imperatives in the field of shipping, fisheries, offshore exploration and production, tourism, and the scientific community should be benchmarked to international standards, which would help achieve the goals with minimal expenditure andbut maximum utilization. There should be stronger involvement of coastal police in control, surveillance and monitoring of the coastline. Instead of setting up a coastal border security force with no legal powers, the authorities must strengthen and better integrate the coastal police into the littoral security architecture. Theemerging complexities in the form of threats and challenges in the coastal domain have added new dimensions to the security apparatus, onesthat besides improving India’s defences, require the constructive engagement of the coastal communities as well. Moreover, the situation entails India to scale up its engagements and partnershipswith othermajor powers and regional groupings on security-related issues.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.