Key reforms implemented since the 26/11 attack in Indian Coastal Defence System

26/11, a ghastly wound inflicted the soul of India’s financial capital, Mumbai 12 years ago. 10 terrorists supported by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the largest Islamist organisation based in Pakistan, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai- the chief spots of damage placed in South Mumbai at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai Chabad House, the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Palace & Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and in a lane behind the Times of India building and St. Xavier’s College.

The terrorists hijacked a Gujarat-based vessel, Kuber and stealthily manoeuvred their way to the shore of Mumbai. The resilient spirit of the city propped the people back on their feet, as the residents slowly recovered and life returned to normalcy. But the deep scars coerced the Defence sector to construct and adopt sweeping reforms of the nation’s coastal security construct, with immediate effect.

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Multiple initiatives were made functional, including the National Committee for Coastal and Maritime Security (NCSMCS) in 2009, Steering Committee for Review of Coastal Security (SCRCS) in 2013, and the State and District level Coastal Security Committees in 2016.

The most vital step towards synergy was the creation of Joint Operations Centres (JOC) at Mumbai, Cochin, Visakhapatnam and Port Blair. Each of these JOCs is managed under a Commander-in-Chief to synergise coastal security efforts of over 15 central and coastal state government agencies. The formation of Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB), comprising over 1,000 personnel, with the additional inclusion of over 100 Fast Interceptor Craft (FICs) has further stepped up security of most major harbours.

The pan-India coastal security exercise Sea Vigil, which was first conducted in January 2019 to evaluate the efficacy of the coastal security system was indeed a watershed moment in global history, as it witnessed the participation than 70 ships, 700 craft and 35 aircraft of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, State Marine Police, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and other agencies, across all coastal States and Union Territories. Also, Ex Sea Vigil is a build-up towards the major theatre level tri-service exercise TROPEX (Theatre-level Readiness Operational Exercise) which the Indian Navy conducts every alternate year.

Additionally, installation of the Harbour Defence Surveillance System, which accumulates data from various sensors to assist in comprehensive real-time situational awareness for monitoring and analysis, has proved to be a technological boon. The Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) and associated Information Fusion Centre (IFC) at Gurugram- is the main-centre of the NC3I network, receives information from various sources and composes them to form a common operational picture. In August 2019, Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) of Ministry of Defence declared the induction of Next-Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long Range) or, NGMMCB. These NGMMCB units were equipped with supersonic BrahMos anti-ship missiles and employed to operate as a cluster of Surface to Surface missile (SSM) complex along with a Command & Guidance mobile unit.

The hierarchy followed in Indian Navy being the principal maritime agency of the nation, and, in constant communication and coordination with the Coast Guard and other organisations involved in coastal security operations. The Marine Police are also increasingly endowed with more power by coastal states, and the police personnel are oriented and trained, to tackle issues related to the marine environment. Regular outreach programmes are also conducted for the fishing communities as they have been empowered to act as ‘eyes and ears’ of the maritime security architecture.

The government has also strived to strengthen coastal security through the legislative framework with steps like the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, the Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill and the Merchant Shipping Bill, which are currently pending enactment.

The upcoming National MDA Project (NMDA) intends to further connect a greater number of stakeholders into a common national maritime information grid, to significantly enhance overall awareness. Indian Coast Guard joint exercises with Vietnam, Japan and the USA to mention a few and recent announcement build a defence and maritime security partnership with Bahrain are also instrumental to increase participation of India to escalate security at the global level.

Infrastructure augmentation, refining of procedures, coordination amongst agencies have reflected extremely positive results, in terms of throttling a number of smuggling cases, chiefly narcotics and explosives. This strengthening of coastal defence is an ongoing effort and the Indian Navy, in close partnership with all other stakeholders, continues to invest more efforts to set up an electronic net and seamless surveillance mechanism along the nation’s coastline, to reach closer to the ultimate goal of developing an impermeable maritime security architecture.

According to GKToday, in 2011, three massive vessels made an entry in Mumbai which included a container ship named MV Wisdom, weighed down by 7025 tonnes of deadweight, and MV Pravit containing 1000 tonnes of materials, which was not detected by the huge set-up of surveillance. In the latter case, the intel of the drifting was provided by fishermen, but the response was received only after 14 hours.

There have been instances of unlawful entries before and patrol boats are under-utilised, there is a shortage of manpower and a huge amount of funds are just occupying the coffers. With heavy stress laid on preventing the recurrence of a 26/11 type incident, threats such as arms and narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, IUU fishing, climate-induced crises, and maritime pollution have received less attention.

However, India has traversed a long way to progress steadily to ensure total security, and shall definitely achieve the ultimate goal soon.