Mumbai derives its current name from the stone goddess Mumbadevi revered by the Koli fisher-folk, the earliest inhabitants of the region. The fortunes of this city have been inexorably linked with the Arabian Sea and it merits recall that the first Englishmen to set foot on the Portuguese hamlet were raiders who came by sea in 1626. Subsequently transferred to the English crown as a dowry gift, the first military fortification to ward off enemy raiders and pirate attacks dates back to 1682 when the British installed a coastal battery on the Middle Ground island.
In recent times, the vulnerability of Mumbai due to Maharashtra's coastal expanse was revealed in 1993 when explosives were furtively landed on the Ratnagiri coast and the city experienced its first terrorist attack. The audacious terrorist attack last month has once again brought the vulnerability of India's 7,600 km coastline into sharp and bloody focus and a slew of new policies have just been announced. Speaking in Parliament, the mint-fresh home minister P Chidambaram announced the setting up of a Coastal Command (CC) for the overall supervision and coordination of maritime and coastal security. While further organisational and funding details are yet to be announced, it is envisaged that the long coastline would be divided into Maritime Defence Zones (MDZ) along the western and eastern sea board, as also in the Andaman & Nicobar islands.
The inference is that the operational responsibility would be tasked to the navy, the coast guard and the marine police of each coastal state and that the new CC would introduce the much-needed inter-organisational synergy. Lack of synergy and internecine rivalry among various departments of the great Indian octopus the government of India remains the abiding Achilles heel that has bedevilled India's chequered security experience. This is evident in the painful reconstruction of the tragic events that led to the 1962 debacle with China, the more recent 1999 Kargil war and now November 26. If the CC is to meaningfully discharge this onerous responsibility protection of a 7,600 km coastline with limited fiscal and human resources the devil in the details must be noted with objective candour.
Currently four major central ministries have varying degrees of responsibility for the management and protection of India's vast maritime assets. These are defence, home, finance and shipping. Intelligence inputs come from the cabinet secretariat that is notionally with the home ministry but managed by the national security adviser who is part of the Prime Minister's Office. Individual coastal states are entrusted with local law and order and have their own marine police units ostensibly buttressed by the central customs and revenue officials.
But most of them are decrepit and have little operational credibility against the likes of Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. If individual departments such as the ONGC are added to the list, then we have a merry medley of 14 individual egos and vastly different organisational cultures that have to be synergised.
Even under the most optimum circumstances, given the intrinsic bureaucratic caste-system that characterises the Indian octopus, it is evident that rather than seamless cohesion, what ensues more often than not is the equivalent of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. Thus it is imperative that the proposed CC have a unified command structure wherein the assets of the principal maritime departments viz the navy, coast guard, revenue/customs and the local marine police are pooled together for appropriate operational tasking. This will not be easy given the traditional insularity and the civilian-uniform divide that permeates the Indian system.
But other nations have been able to arrive at such organisational models that have been specifically evolved for coastal security. The French experience of having a National Maritime Prefect who is answerable to the prime minister merits consideration. The need to have a national maritime coordinator and a maritime commission has been mooted in the past but in vain. Post the Mumbai tragedy, this structural void must be redressed quickly.
Innovative use of technology and human intelligence for coastal security warrants highest priority and piecemeal acquisitions by individual departments will be counterproductive. For instance, a virtual coastal fence (akin to the barbed-wire fence along the Indo-Pak land border) comprising static radar chains with a S-band radar, AIS (automatic identifica