Lack of Operations Centre in Mumbai to coordinate activities and failure of senior officials charged to take decisions have been passed off as “systemic failure” but now it needs to be improved urgently for the countrys maritime security.
There is no centrally available information on the resources of all these agencies, those that are functional and those that are not or where they are deployed, resulting in both confusion and under utilization of assets. For example, during the Tsunami disaster in 2004, our assistance would have been far more productive if assets available with these agencies, not just of the Navy and the Coast Guard, had been utilized. Similarly, ships of the Navy and the Coast Guard have frequently challenged unidentified vessels at sea only to find that they belonged to one of our own departments. There is urgent need for a Maritime Commission or Agency at the apex level working to oversee all aspects connected with security issues at sea, coastal and otherwise. Such a system is functional in France and in Japan and we would do well to learn from them. Under this arrangement there would be an Operations Center at New Delhi connected with subordinate centers mentioned earlier, all networked in real time and functioning round-the-clock. Modern technology permits quick collation, analysis and dissemination of information.
A proposal to institute such a system has been languishing in the corridors of Government for some time, but bureaucratic cussedness and an obsession to safeguard turfs has prevented any progress. There are reports that the Government is now considering creation of a Maritime Security Adviser in the PMO to co-ordinate the activities of these several agencies. Better late than never, even if at a terrible cost.
Ever since it became a free and independent nation, India’s security concerns have remained focused on preserving its land borders. Such challenges have diminished in recent years but they have not disappeared. There is, therefore, need for vigilance. Economic growth is now becoming an increasingly important in the context of national power. While some of its prerequisites, such as internal stability and societal harmony are internal, others, viz. energy security and overseas trade depend upon tranquility at sea; as the economy grows so will their importance. To these concerns must now be added, the dimension of coastal security, an area not taken seriously thus far.
In short, the focus of India’s security interests is now shifting towards the sea. These include not just traditional areas of concern but newly emerging ones from non-state actors. As the country adjusts to its changing security perceptions, the sea is acquiring dimensions that it did not have earlier. As the leading regional power, India has important responsibilities in maritime affairs of this part of the world. So far, it has restricted itself within the narrow confines of its own territorial concerns on land. This mindset must now change. If the tragic events of 26/11 act as a catalyst in doing this, the price would have been well paid.