Why Marine Police remains the weakest link in India’s coastal security system?

marine-policeThe inauguration of the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) at Gurgaon on November 23, 2014 is yet another step in the implementation of a series of security measures announced in the wake of the Mumbai 2008 terror attacks to improve remote surveillance of the Indian coasts. The IMAC is envisaged to function as the nodal centre for collecting inputs from various static sensors and radars that were installed along the coast under the Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN) as well as from satellite imageries. Its tasks are analyzing these inputs and disseminating them among concerned agencies to ensure a gapless surveillance of the entire coastline. The Center forms part of the National Command Control and Communication and Intelligence Network (NC3IN) which connects 20 naval and 31 coast guard stations along the coast that have been jointly developed by the Indian navy, the Indian coast guard and the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). The IMAC at present has the ability to track marine vessels operating between the Malacca Strait and the Persian Gulf and can trigger off an alarm if any ship’s movement is deemed suspicious.

While projects such as the NC3IN and National Maritime Domain Awareness (NDMA) are indeed essential for creating situational awareness as well as providing ‘actionable’ intelligence, the necessary thrust for developing an effective response mechanism at the ground level seems to be lacking in force. The fundamental reason for this lacuna is the perceptible disconnect between the attitudes of the Centre and the States towards coastal security. Whereas the Centre has understood the acuteness of seaborne threats and has devised schemes to address them, most of the coastal states are yet to understand the magnitude of the challenge and accord coastal security its due importance. The lackadaisical attitude of coastal states towards coastal security is reflected in their poor implementation of the many coastal security schemes resulting in poor capacity building of key organisations at the ground level. One such key organisation which is at the cutting edge but has been languishing for want of state governments’ attention is the Marine Police.

The marine police was raised under the coastal security scheme (CSS) in 2005-06 with the objective of strengthening the patrolling and surveillance infrastructure along the coasts. Since law and order is a state subject, the responsibility of raising the marine police force was given to the coastal states. The Centre, on its part, provided financial assistance for the construction of coastal police stations and supplied interceptor boats for patrolling purposes. But barring one or two coastal states, the others have not shown any enthusiasm in implementing the scheme. Many have even requested the Center to shoulder the entire responsibility for coastal security since they themselves did not have adequate resources for this purpose. This situation changed a little following the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, when the Centre compelled all the coastal states to build coastal police stations and raise marine police forces. Although the coastal states began to implement the CSS, most did so half- heartedly. Tardy implementation ensured that the marine police in particular remained a weak force incapable of responding effectively during crises.

Marine police duties require special skills such as sea faring and sea combat, ability to handle boats, etc. Presently, the marine police force is manned by personnel derived from the central pool of the state police. These personnel are deputed to coastal police stations after a basic training of one month imparted by the coast guard. Since the training is too short, many find it difficult to perform sea patrolling duties properly and rarely venture beyond one or two nautical miles. Marine police in some states are populated by men over 40 years of age as it is still considered a punishment posting. Even though fishermen are the perfect candidates for this job, no concerted effort has been made by the states to recruit them. Similarly, a shortage of technical staff for running and maintaining the boats is another issue which the marine police have to grapple with. Although the state governments have implemented the policy of recruiting ex naval and coast guard personnel to the posts of technical staff, the response has not been very encouraging. Low salary, lower designation and short term contracts offered by the state governments have discouraged many retired naval and coast guard personnel. To make matters worse, in some states, coastal police stations have been assigned simultaneous jurisdiction over the adjoining land area. Consequently a substantial part of the marine police’s time is spent in dealing with law and order and other issues relating on land.

The functioning of the marine police is further restricted by an absence of suitable infrastructure such as coastal police stations, patrol boats, jetties, workshops, etc. For example, in some states marine police continue to operate out of rented buildings because the state government could not acquire land for construction of coastal police stations. In others, coastal police stations are not located near the coast but have been built far inland thus negating their effectiveness. Since dedicated jetties have not been provided for stationing interceptor boats, marine police are forced to berth them at fishing harbours, some of which could be far away from the coastal police stations. The marine police also do not have workshops and complimentary infrastructure such as cranes to repair and maintain the boats. Furthermore, most of the expensive spare parts are not included in the annual maintenance contract (AMC). As a result, repair of boats is delayed because financial approval has to be acquired from the state administration before procuring such parts, which more often than not is not forthcoming.

Given that marine police has been exclusively created for coastal security duties, it is imperative that the force is adequately strengthened with manpower and assets to function efficiently. For this to happen, it is incumbent upon the respective state governments to recognize the severity of sea-borne threats and take effective steps to augment the capabilities of the marine police, which is one of the first respondents during crises. To begin with, states should encourage recruitment of fishermen in the marine police force by spotting and nourishing talented individuals in the fishermen community. State governments could also raise a separate cadre for marine police along the lines of a short service commission officered by state Police officers. States should also concentrate on the issue of training the marine police as its next step. States should also seek the assistance of the coast guard in operating patrol boats. If such affirmative steps are not taken urgently, marine police will continue to remain the weakest link in the coastal security system.

(The views expressed  in this article are solely those of the author)

Courtesy: IDSA 

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