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Coastal security in India

Published: 4th Aug, 2022


Coastal security is one of the major concerns for India with a coastline of 7,516.6 km. The coastline also accounts for 90% of the country's trade.


  • India’s coasts have always been vulnerable to anti-national activities. Numerous cases of the smuggling of goods, gold, narcotics, explosives, arms, and ammunition as well as the infiltration of terrorists into the country through these coasts have been reported over the years.
  • External challenges emanating from across the border such as infiltration, illegal migration, smuggling, terrorism, etc. aggravate the internal security problems.
  • Serial blasts of March 1993 and terrorist attacks of November 2008 in Mumbai happened because of a poorly guarded maritime border. On both occasions, criminals and terrorists entered India through the sea.
  • Although the Indian security forces had responded swiftly to ’ the 26/11 Mumbai attack’, it exposed three significant cracks in India’s maritime security calculus,
  • The porous nature of India’s coastline;
  • The inadequate surveillance of the maritime domain; and
  • The lack of inter-agency coordination.
  • It is important to ensure that we draw maximum advantage from the maritime sector – to benefit our economy and also to reinforce maritime security.
  • It is a daunting task to balance economic, environmental, and security interests at the national level.

Maritime and Coastal Security:

  • Maritime security has been defined in the Indian Maritime Doctrine (IMD) as relating to freedom from threats at or from the sea.
  • Although the IMD does not define coastal security, the Indian Maritime Security Strategy (IMSS), an official publication of the IN defines it as a subset of maritime security, focused on the coastal waters.
  • The coastal waters are considered, for the purpose of IMSS, as the water area seawards of the Indian coast up to the limit of India’s Contiguous Zone (CZ) which is at 24 nautical miles from the baseline, or the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), in case the latter is nearer.

Present Coastal Security Mechanism:

  • Currently, the coastal security of India is governed by a three-tiered structure.
  • The Indian Navy patrols the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), while the Indian Coast Guard is mandated to do patrolling and surveillance up to 200 nautical miles (i.e., EEZ).
  • Simultaneously, the State Coastal/Marine Police (SC/MP) performs boat patrolling in shallow coastal areas.

Jurisdiction: The State Coastal/Marine Police (SC/MP) have jurisdiction up to 12 nautical miles from the coast; and the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy have jurisdiction over the entire maritime zone (up to 200 nautical miles), including the territorial waters (with the SMP).

  • The Border Security Force (BSF) is deployed in the creek areas of Gujarat and Sundarbans in West Bengal.


Why Coastal security is significant for India?

  • Safeguarding India’s diverse Topography: India’s coasts are characterized by a diverse range of topography such as creeks, small bays, backwaters, rivulets, lagoons, estuaries, swamps, mudflats, as well as hills, rocky outcrops, sandbars, beaches, and small islands.
  • Security for Disputed maritime Boundaries: India’s maritime boundaries with Pakistan and Bangladesh are not delineated because of overlapping claims.
  • Saving Fisheries and other marine resources: India is the 7th largest fishing nation in the world and Indian coasts account for approximately 4 million fishermen settled along the coast in 3288 marine fishing villages.
  • Coastal Population and development: Besides fishing, other major industrial activities such as shipbuilding, manufacturing, oil exploration and refining, etc. are also concentrated in coastal areas. Indian coasts also house a number of urban centers which are hubs for industrial and economic activities.

Additional areas of vulnerabilities of the Indian coastline:

  • Smuggling and trafficking: Indian coasts have been susceptible to the smuggling of items such as gold, electronic goods, narcotics, and arms.
  • Maritime terrorism: hijacking, attacking, and sinking ships, taking hostages, sabotaging pipelines, and attacking cities and strategic installations like naval bases and petrochemical storage.
  • Infiltration, illegal migration, and refugee influx: large-scale refugee influxes over the decades have resulted in widespread political turmoil in the border states.
  • Discontent in fishermen's communities interferes with the effective functioning of the coastal security architecture as fishermen are considered the ‘eyes and ears of the coastal security architecture and, therefore, an integral part of it.
  • Sensitive installations along the coast: Due to the process of industrialization along the coastal region, the existence of strategic installations by oil companies, nuclear power plants, missile, and satellite testing centers have taken place, which are high-value targets for the terrorists.

Technologies used for Coastal security and Management:

  • The surveillance sensor network serves as the eyes and ears of the system. A combination of sensors can track individuals and objects over varying distances, providing higher resolution as the target gets closer to the coastline.
  • The sensor network can include a combination of the various types of technologies such as radar, Automated Identification System (AIS), Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) System, Identification system, Command, and Control system, etc.

Fundamental deficiencies in security:

  • Conflates Policing with Maritime Border Guarding: This erroneously conflates the responsibility of law and order (State List) with maritime border guarding (Union List).
    • This also leads to the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the IN, ICG, and the SCP and a lack of unity of command at the ministry and force level.
  • Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard under Different Departments in MoD: The Army, Navy, and Air Force were placed under the Department of Military Affairs ( a department created within MoD), and the ICG was placed under the MoD. The Group of Minister report highlighted this anomaly and noted the requirement for coordination between the IN and the ICG in both peace and war.
  • Diffused Responsibilities: Lack of clarity in jurisdiction between the IN, ICG, and SCP.

Indian Coast Guard Initiatives:

  • Promulgation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for effective coordination amongst all stakeholders.
  • Coastal security exercises in coordination with the Indian Navy, SCP, and other central and state agencies.
  • Special ‘Operation Sajag’ training for SCP
  • Community interaction programmes (CIPs)

Government Initiatives in Coastal Security Infrastructure

  • Appointment of National Maritime Security Coordinator:
  • The appointment of the country’s first National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) reflects the serious intent of the Government of India (GoI) to address maritime security challenges.
  • It aims to create an interface between the civilian and military maritime domains to enhance India’s security architecture and energy security.
  • National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security headed by Cabinet Secretary coordinates all matters related to Maritime and Coastal Security.
  • Coastal Security Measures Post Kargil war: Kargil Review Committee (KRC) constituted to study the circumstances that had led to the war has recommended several coastal security measures like:

Limitations of Coastal Security Measures:

Some challenges need to be taken care of, such as:

  • Detection of small boats which are being increasingly used by non-state actors for their operations remains a daunting task especially so in dark and bad weather conditions.
  • Identification at sea continues to remain a challenge as coastal waters are highly crowded.
  • Unregulated fishing complicates the identification of friendly or foe. Further, identification of personnel manning boats is equally difficult in the absence of suitable identity cards.
  • The identification problem is not only for small boats like the one used by Kasab for the 26/11 attacks, but it also includes the identification of thousands of containers and cargo vessels that call at our Ports or pass close to our coasts to prevent the smuggling of arms, ammunition, explosives, and human trafficking.
  • Availability of information with the help of surveillance technologies in itself is of no great advantage unless the available information is analyzed, and actionable information is generated and used appropriately.
  • Major ports are generally secured and it is the other dense traffic areas that have still not gotten the required attention from the coastal security planners and are most likely to be exploited by the terrorists/non-state actors.
  • Integration of Maritime Stakeholders: There is a requirement of sharing information among all the agencies for coordinated action against the common threat.
  • Regular communication and flow of information between the stakeholders can only be facilitated with help of modern technology.

Recent Government Interventions

  • The Indian government has also drawn plans to reinforce the NMDA via multilateral cooperation. It is in talks with at least 24 countries for exchanging information on shipping to ensure that the seas are safe and secure for global commerce.
  • India has placed maritime security high on the agenda through active participation in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus.
  • Additionally, it is in talks with other countries to institutionalize intelligence exchange among the respective security agencies.


  • Self-dependency: To develop our own AIS type which can be easily fitted on the smaller craft that operates in our coastal waters to aid detection and identification. Presently, fitment of AIS is mandated only for vessels greater than 300 Tonnage.
  • Distress Alert Transmitter (DAT) is provided by Coast Guard to transmit emergency conditions and position location to the central hub station via the UHF transponder of INSAT for the rescue operation. This technology could be innovatively used to indicate the likely threat observed by our fishermen while at sea.
  • The use of the Aadhar card is being propagated as the main identity document for all important purposes including financial transactions. Proving the identity of fishermen at sea has been one of the key concerns.
  • Regulation of fishing: Fisheries often cite inadequate staff and infrastructure to regulate fishing activities. The use of modern data handling devices that can provide instant information on fishing boats, their whereabouts, and other relevant information also needs to be explored.
  • Port and container terminal security can be enhanced by making use of high-speed X-ray machines, CCTV surveillance, VTMS, biometrics; etc.
  • Deployment of Unmanned platforms: Aerial vehicles are needed which will provide for quick launch and effective surveillance for prolonged periods.
  • Modernization and Augmentation needed: Steadily augmenting force levels for effective surveillance and optimum coverage. Multi-mission maritime aircraft, Twin engine helicopters, State of art surface platforms with modern sensors.


Review of coastal security apparatus in India is a continuous process. A three-tier coastal security ring all along our coast is provided by Marine Police, the Indian Coast Guard, and the Indian Navy. The government has initiated several measures to strengthen Coastal Security, which include improving surveillance mechanisms and enhanced patrolling by following an integrated approach. Coastal surveillance is not just technology to defend valuable assets. The coastal challenge is the prevention of access to the hinterland to all anti-nationals and nefarious elements.

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