Military & Aerospace

Gaps in Maritime Security-III
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Issue Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar2009 | Date : 02 Aug , 2011

The Customs Department: There is a Customs office at every major fishing centre. Strictly in accordance with the rules and regulations and in accordance with its charter of activities, every Customs office at the fishing harbours and along the coast has the following responsibilities:

  • It issues photo-passes and keeps records of various fishing crews going out into the sea.
  • Issues Registration Numbers to boats after it has carried out sea worthiness checks. A nominal fee is charged for this.
  • Should develop an information gathering system by generating source-based human intelligence gathering from within Fishing Co-operatives and Societies. If such information gathering systems are actually functional this would have been a significant deterrent to outsiders inimical to national interests.

“¦ few sprinkling of check posts along the coast and the coastal police stations set up a little far away from coast are the only visible, physical police presence in the entire stretch from the coast to Mumbai.

  • The Customs should have small speedboats (carry a crew of two or three), and should regularly patrol their area of jurisdiction. But in reality the Customs does not have speedboats and the patrol boats purchased after the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts are in a dilapidated and unusable condition. Most Customs outposts on the coasts are under staffed and many are shockingly under lock and key because the Customs officers prefer to cool their heels in urban centres far away from their offices on the coast. Morale and work interest are low because the days of incentives and rewards as a result of traditional anti-smuggling operations has long receded into the past. With the opening and liberalization of the Indian economy smuggling of consumer goods, gold and gems and other such items became non-lucrative for Customs officers and staff. And over the years the much sought after Customs service has degenerated into a third rate government agency. This coincided with rise of narco-terrorism related smuggling operations in the 1990s. Dawood Ibrahim and his network of Mumbai underworld operatives also invested heavily in setting up a fleet of ocean going vessels owned by shipping companies funded by the underworld. From the 1990s smuggling operations along the Indian coast was increasingly associated with anti-national subversive activities and the Customs was neither trained nor equipped to deal with this maritime threat. Information gathered from Customs officials, serving and retired, suggest that posting to fishing centre outposts was seen within the organisation as a ‘punishment posting’. In fact, Customs officials and staff considered a posting to urban trading centres, export-import centres and large ports as ‘good posting’ because these were lucrative postings where “moolah” could be made.

Fast_Patrol_BoatOn paper the Customs outposts in the fishing centres and its relatively bigger presence in ports should combine together to generate crucial coastal security inputs. But on ground the reality is that while this system has the potential for generating intelligence on activities in the high seas, this system is just isn’t operational and real security enforcement is completely absent. The Customs does not watch fishing docks. Most Customs outposts are abandoned and the staff is perpetually on casual leave. Barring having their paperwork in order the department does very little else.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

VK Shashikumar

VK Shashikumar, recipient of 'Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism'

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