India is finally shoring up its defenses in the water bodies across the coastal line of the country. According to a report by Hindustan Times, the Narendra Modi government is all set to create and appoint a National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) to communicate between the civilian and military maritime domain. According to sources in the South block, a serving or recently retired Vice Admiral of Indian Navy will be appointed to the job position.
The Maritime Security Coordinator will work under Indian National Security Advisor and be the principal advisor to the government on maritime security domain. It is pertinent to note that our neighboring country China, which has lately become a threat in the water bodies as well, has managed to reorganize its governance structure to cope with the challenges of the seas in the 21st century. India has, however, lagged behind in this respect.
The Kargil Group of Ministers’, two decades ago in 2001 had recommended the formation of National Maritime Commission (NMC). The Committee had underlined the need for “an apex body for management of maritime affairs for institutionalized linkages among the Navy, Coast Guard and ministries of central and state governments”.
However, better late than never, the establishment of an apex federal body is expected to mount a singular offense against the enemies in the vast and critical waterways surrounding the country. The lack of cohesion between the authorities working on the seas led to the dastardly 26/11 attacks as the terrorists managed to reach the Mumbai shores on an unassuming boat, all the way from Karachi. Navy, Coast Guard and Mumbai Port all bickered amongst themselves upon the jurisdiction and ultimately, the countrymen paid for the blind spots in the maritime defense structure of the country.
Earlier this year, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff, had announced that the modalities regarding the establishment of the body had been worked out.
“The organizational structure of a National Maritime Commission (NMC) has been worked out after inter-ministerial consultations. It is in the final stages now, requiring only the nod of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). By the middle of this year, the NMC will become a reality,” General Bipin Rawat had stated.
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India has a coast line of 7,516km and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.03 million sq.km. Over 90 per cent of the country’s trade by volume and over 70 per cent by value, including crude oil, is transported across the seas, which is vital for our economy and energy security.
China has been closing in near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as it wants complete dominance over the Malacca Strait. Reported by TFI, 80 per cent of China’s oil supplies pass through the South China Sea via the Strait of Malacca, and any Indian presence could easily hamper China’s hydrocarbons supply from the Middle East bringing the Xi Jinping regime to its knees.
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Since 2018, the Navy has been using Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram to make up for the lack of coordination. The center at Gurugram takes feeds and inputs from multiple sources ranging from coastal radars to satellites. It then fuses, correlates and analyses them to assess threats in the maritime domain. Last year, it monitored as many as 1998 incidents pertaining to various maritime security challenges. However, the need for a more cogent and disciplined command was always felt.
Synergy among different stakeholders, ranging from central ministries and departments (home, shipping, fisheries etc) and state governments to the Navy, Coast Guard, customs, intelligence agencies and port authorities is required if India wants to thwart enemy presence in its sovereign water. Swift announcement of the National Maritime Security Coordinator could expedite the process and help India strengthen its defences.