gfiles magazine

February 9, 2011

NATIONAL SECURITY | coastal protection  
Guarding India’s seafront
Is it time to pat ourselves on the back? Can India be sure of preventing another terror attack?

THE Indian security agencies’ successful handling of a series of events involving lucrative terrorist targets in the last quarter of 2010 showed they are succeeding in setting right their woeful performance during the 26/11 attack in Mumbai two years ago. The tasks faced by them would have been daunting for even the security agencies of the global powers.
The blue ribbon event was the high profile visit of US President Barack Obama, the world’s Number One terrorist target. It was followed by the XIX Commonwealth Games, in which 83 countries took part. The quarter also included two other potentially explosive anniversaries – that of the 26/11 attack and of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. There were also two other add-ons to the security nightmare – the longawaited judgement in the Babri Masjid ownership case and the visit of French President Nicholas Sarkozy of the French burqa ban fame. But all the events passed off peacefully. Glitches, if any, were minor.
Of course, the security agencies were kept on tenterhooks by reports of Pakistan-based jihadi groups preparing to strike at some prominent targets in India. However, the terrorists were kept at bay apparently due to the security elements in place. A number of arrests of suspected terrorists were also made.
No doubt success in this crucial period is a direct outcome of the efforts of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to tone up the internal security set-up. His multi-pronged approach and broad-based strategies to improve the command and control of security response systems on a networked basis are slowly coming into their own. So coherence in action has become visible. However, the task of providing muscle and teeth to State and Central police and paramilitary forces is not yet complete. So the much-needed progress has not yet reached the ground floor.
There is no dearth of money for the action plan. The Centre’s allocation for internal security is now poised to go up to Rs 40,852 crore this year, if we go by the first Budget supplementary. This represents nearly a 50% increase over the previous allocation of Rs 25, 923 crore in 2008-09.

The media in Maharashtra says the State Home Ministry has not shown a keen interest in providing training to the lowest rank – police constables.

The expenditure is mainly due to the two schemes for modernization of State police and Central paramilitary forces (CPMF). Both schemes have been extended to 2010-11. The force levels of the three CPMF (BSF, CRPF and SSB) are being increased by 109 additional battalions. The hardware and software to connect the security control centres in State capitals with State Special Branches are in place. And connectivity is expected to be complete very soon.
One Central Academy for Police Training (CAPT) in Bhopal, two Central Detective Training Schools (CDTS) in Lucknow and Ahmedabad, and 20 Counter Insurgency and Anti-Terrorist (CIAT) Schools are also being set up. After a review, the sanctioned strength of the IPS to the State cadre has been increased by 717 to 4,730.
Is it time to pat ourselves on the back? Can India be sure of preventing another terrorist attack on the scale of 26/11? It is difficult to answer these questions with surety if we consider our inability to execute time-bound projects. In this respect, the Union Home Ministry’s record is slightly better; at the State level, the leadership has not shown the urgency required to revamp the set-up to handle the terrorist threat. This is not mere lethargy. The States have always resisted carrying out police reforms. Despite judicial direction, politicians do not want to lose control over the law enforcement machinery. Even after the 26/11 disaster, this mindset does not appear to have changed.

The biggest chink in national security is in coastal areas. The issue is mired in power games played by diverse Ministries and state governments.

Nothing illustrates this better than the attitude of the States towards changing existing systems. The media in Maharashtra says the State Home Ministry has not shown a keen interest in providing training to the lowest rank – police constables. The Special Forces, raised with a lot of fanfare, still carry old weapons and do not have enough body armour. There are huge deficiencies in police strength in many States. Efforts to fill these vacancies are tardy.
However, the biggest chink in national security is in coastal security. No doubt it is a complex issue mired in the roundrobin power games played by diverse Ministries. Apart from the State governments, at the Centre also it involves coordinating the functioning of many agencies and Ministries, including defence, ports and shipping, fisheries, agriculture, off-shore drilling, maritime trade, environmental protection and international relations. So it is not surprising the Union Home Ministry took two years to embark on forming a multidimensional command structure. Four Joint Operation Centres have been set up under the respective naval commanders-in-chief. A Sagar Prahari Bal under the Navy has been set up to patrol shallow waters off the coast. A thousand sailors equipped with 80 fast interceptor boats are being trained in phases. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for coastal security have been finalized with respect to all coastal States and Union Territories.
The Centre is optimistic that the first phase of the Coastal Security Scheme will be implemented nationwide by March 2011. Its expectations of States and Union Territories are that the States will establish 73 coastal police stations, provided with adequate manpower, apart from 204 boats, 153 vehicles and 312 two-wheelers.
IN the second phase, the Coastal Security Scheme is even more ambitious with an outlay of Rs1,579.91 crore. Ithopes to provide States/UTs 131 additional coastal police stations, boats and infrastructure to make them operational. The Scheme will also provide support for equipment, computer systems, vehicles, two-wheelers and so on. A uniform system for registration of all boats is being introduced. The process of issuing ID cards to all fishermen is on. There is increased emphasis on technology usage; installation of transponders on vessels to ensure identification and tracking is also being initiated. Radar chains are being strengthened. So where is the problem? It lies in our national inability to execute plans on paper in time. Barring Gujarat, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, coastal States have made little progress in implementing coastal security projects. The setting up of coastal police stations envisaged even in the first phase of the plan is lagging. The infrastructure is not in place. So it is doubtful whether the Coastal Security Scheme will be implemented fully even by end-2012.
According to defence analyst Major General Ashok Mehta, “while the Indian navy, the nodal agency for coastal security, has issued elaborate papers on plugging gaps at sea through maritime domain awareness, little has been done in augmenting capabilities of the Coast Guard.” Only two aircraft or helicopters have been added to the fleet of 48 since 2008 for watching India’s 7,600-km coastline.
At the heart of the problem is incompetent political leadership. After all, what happened to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh after he messed up the handling of the 26/11 terror attack? He was pushed out to a plum post in the Central Cabinet as Minister for Heavy Industries. With this law of diminishing returns in operation, any improvement to national security will come if and when the political leadership becomes accountable and demands accountability from the bureaucracy. Otherwise, the nation is likely to limp along from year to year, explaining why we failed rather than talking of our successes.

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