Alarm bells rang briefly in 1993, when explosives were landed on the Konkan coast meant for serial blasts all over Mumbai. At that time, the Maharashtra government made plans to beef up coastal security.
Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, has been under terrorist attacks since late Wednesday after barged into the city using the sea route.
In fact, Defence Minister AK Antony, while addressing navy officers in Kochi a few days back, spoke about the terrorist threat to the west coast.
Interestingly, in his 2006 novel, legendary thriller writer Frederic Forsyth had predicted that the next big terrorist attack in the world would take place via sea route.
But little has happened on coastal security since 1993. Vigil on the coast was considered the job of Navy, Coast Guard and Customs. In 15 years, all that the Maharashtra government has been able to do is build an infrastructure of 17 launches, most of them so run down that they remain on the coast due lack of maintenance. This includes seven boats for keeping vigil on Mumbai's coastline. Policemen assigned to patrolling duty on the sea have to frequently rent boats from local fishermen and carry out the patrolling.
The Maharashtra government has created 12 special coastal police stations but no additional manpower has been allocated to them. Instead, local police are deployed at these police stations on rotation basis.
Around one and a half years ago, the central government had sanctioned Rs 41 crore for modernisation and upgrade of maritime police functioning. Of this, Rs 31 crore was allocated for acquiring new speed boats, night-vision binoculars, modern communication equipment and arms. However, the state government still is in the process of acquiring these boats.
When contacted, Director General of Maharashtra Police (DGP) AN Roy admitted that coastal policing has remained somewhat neglected. “The state police is in the process of increasing its coastal resonance and issue of men and material will be taken up with appropriate authorities once we manage to wipe out the terrorists who have attacked the city.”
“However, the job of the police is to essentially provide security along the coast and it is the job of coast guard or navy to provide maritime security. But we will make efforts to increase coordination between state police and these agencies,” he added.
Speaking with Business Standard, Lt Gen DB Shekatar (retired), former director general of Assam Rifles who had led many counter insurgency operations in the North-East, said there was a lack of coordination between Indian Navy, Coast Guard and maritime police of the state government.
Otherwise, it would not have been possible for a boat with 20 to 25 men, all heavily armed, to easily enter into the Mumbai harbour, he said.
“Considering the country’s high value targets like oil refineries, atomic research centres like the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), naval bases are located along our vast sea coast, and we need to make serious efforts to beef up our maritime security,” Shekatar added.