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'Police marine wing, Coast Guard responsible for sea failure'
Archana Masih in Mumbai
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Coverage: Attack on Mumbai
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December 02, 2008 15:41 IST
Last Updated: December 02, 2008 20:31 IST

Rear Admiral M P Taneja (retired) feels the agency principally responsible for failure on the water has been the marine wing of the police. The failing on the sea -- if indeed the terrorist transited in a fishing boat from Karachi -- should be that of the Coast Guard, he says.

"To stop access in the waters where it is reported that the terrorists entered is the job of the marine wing of the police. The marine wing of the police are meant to prevent unlawful acts from the shoreline, extending up to 5 miles and inward into inland waterways, creeks," says the former naval officer, who served as Flag Officer Commanding Maharashtra and Gujarat, and clarifies that navies do not guard coastlines in any manner -- their role is strategic -- for projecting the nation's maritime power.

"Firstly, the breach is in the intelligence, I don't think any credible intelligence input is ever not properly acknowledged or acted upon. It is failing on the sea, if indeed, the terrorist transited in a fishing boat from Karachi, should be that of the Coast Guard. It, however, bears scrutiny whether any credible intelligence was indeed furnished as is now being claimed," says the former officer, who is an advisor to the government on offshore defence.

The Coast Guard is an independant service which is under the Ministry of Defence. It has its own DG and does not come under the operational command of the Navy. It has its own command structure, clarifies Rear Admiral Taneja.

Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta said on Tuesday that there was a lacunae in coastal security and intelligence sharing in the wake of terror strikes in Mumbai.

'There is perhaps a lacuna that exists and we will work to sort this out. There is a systemic failure, which needs to be taken stock of. The response from the government is going to be adequate,' Admiral told the annual press conference ahead of Navy Day, which is observed on December 4.

Rear Admiral Taneja spoke about guarding the west coast of India which borders Pakistan to

If you have been to sea, it is a huge expanse. A country like the USA, which has the most developed, potent and largest Coast Guard, has not been able to prevent the Columbian smuggling of narcotics. We have a well defined LoC between India and Pakistan at Siachen, but you have people who breach that too.

If there was total transparency of what is going on the other side then we would be very effective. It is easy to say from the armchair, but very difficult when you meet it on ground. It is not an excuse but I know the practical difficulties involved.

The Chinese coast would have to put up 3,000 cannons if you want to have credible defence, so you can imagine how things are with us. The dimension is very huge.

The entire Indian coastline is 7,516 km long. Between the Gulf of Kutch to Mumbai it must be 380 to 400 miles thereabouts. From the international boundary line to here it will be about 450 miles.

In whose purview did the breach lie: The Navy's role is not what this fell within the purview of. If a naval ship had seen something suspicious it would have stopped it. Naval ships are not known to catch contraband, but they have done so.

I think we need to strengthen the Coast Guard, the agencies that feed to them and R&AW should get its act together. The area and the charter in which it fell was the Coast Guard, but as you get closer to coast what has happened lies with the marine wing of the police.

If you look at the practicality, the Coast Guard with the resources they have, if they were to search every possible vessel that comes and goes, is not possible. On the high seas outside the 12 nautical mile limit, if a chap is innocently fishing, it is difficult to start searching. (12 nautical miles from the shoreline are the territorial waters of India where the country has sovereign control according to international law; 12 to 24 miles checks are done by the customs; 24 to 200 miles is the Exclusive Economic Zone).

If you have been out to sea, there are places that you run into a swarm of 100 boats and you have a single vessel. Can you imagine searching each boat and they say these things were hidden under the fish?

On the vulnerability of the West Coast: There are several challenges -- the boundary dispute about Sir Creek that divides India and Pakistan. I have seen two boats tied with each other, one with an Indian flag and the other with a Pakistani flag. The reason being that they were related, therefore there is a lot of cross pollination.

They fish in the same waters, their boats stray over to our side and ours to theirs. They captures our boats, we capture theirs. We capture less of theirs than they of ours. What happens to people who get back from their prisons, needs to be watched.

When the land borders become more and more properly barricaded, policed, fenced, then there is an attraction of using the sea.

Measures taken after explosives were smuggled through the Raigad coast in the 1993 Mumbai blasts: Joint patrols were started by the customs, police and navy. Why naval? Because the Coast Guard said they did not have enough people to participate in the patrol at that time. The problem really at that time was that the boats that we got (for the patrol) were not really the best. The state government was supposed to provide the boats.

But one really does not guard everything with highly sophisticated, high speed vessels. 22 stations were set up in Maharashtra and Gujarat for the patrol. This was Operation Swan, which did stop this from happening. I am surprised it has happened now. The operation was going on till I retired two-and-a-half years ago.

Another former marine commando, who has served in the region, says that improved coastal security can serve as a deterrent but you cannot seal the coast. Neither is it possible to patrol every inch of the West Coast continuously. To monitor say a 1,000 kms stretch, 20 to 30 ships with radars would need to be in constant motion for a continuous patrol. And to keep 20 to 30 ships engaged thus, another 20 or so ships would be needed to fill in for wear and tear.

There had been a proposal to put up a chain of radars across the coast of India and some of it has already been implemented. "You could spend billions of dollars, but the coast could still get breached," he said.

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