A review meeting to assess the status of the country’s coastal security was organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on June 16, 2016 in Mumbai. One of the suggestions proposed at the meeting and which seems to have found favour with the MHA is the establishment of a Central Marine Police Force (CMPF) to patrol the coastal waters. The suggestion to raise a CMPF was made by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. And it was reportedly supported by chief ministers of at least four other coastal States. The suggestion to raise a CMPF is not new and many coastal States and Union Territories have been asking for a centrally funded marine police force to address the shortfall of manpower in coastal police stations. In fact, in its February 2014 Report on the Coastal Security Scheme, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs had recommended that the MHA should seriously consider the proposal of raising a Marine Indian Reserve Battalion (MIRB). Now that the Home Minister has termed the suggestion of a CMPF as a “good idea”, the raising of such a force appears to be a likelihood.
The creation of CMPF for enhancing coastal security is, however, still in the realm of ideas and, therefore, a debate about its nature is yet to occur. But one can speculate that the proposed CMPF could be raised according to one of two alternate models – the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) or the India Reserve Battalions (IRBns).
The CRPF is a central armed police force (CAPF), raised and funded fully by the Union Government. They are deployed upon the request of State Governments and Union Territory Administrations to assist them in maintaining public order and countering the subversive activities of militants groups. When deployed in the aid of the civil power of the State, the CRPF functions according to the limited powers and duties conferred upon it by the Union Government in accordance with the Central Reserve Police Force Act of 1949. Accordingly, CRPF personnel have powers to arrest including preventive detention, search a place where the person to be arrested may have entered, and seize offensive weapons and property. But they do not have the powers to register offences, investigate a crime or summon persons for that purpose.
According to media reports that quote officials, the proposed CMPF shall have the powers to register FIRs and investigate crimes conducted at sea. If that be the case, then the proposed CMPF could not be on the lines of the CRPF as the latter does not have investigative powers. Moreover, the CRPF is deployed for accomplishing certain specified tasks and for specified durations of time, whereas the patrolling of coastal waters requires involvement over a sustained period of time. This means that the deployment of the proposed CMPF will be of a more permanent nature. That, in turn, would invariably result in creating the problems of multiplicity of command and lack of coordination between the State police and the CMPF, as demonstrated by experiences in various counter-insurgency theatres.
IRBns, on the other hand, are raised with the objective of “strengthening the capabilities of the States, and reducing their dependence upon central armed police forces to deal with various types of law and order and internal security situations.”1 These battalions are raised by the States with substantial financial assistance from the Union Government. Under the scheme, only 25 per cent of the cost of raising the battalions and 50 per cent of infrastructure cost are borne by the State Governments while the remainder is reimbursed as grants-in aid by the Union Government. IRBns, though maintained and controlled by the State Governments, remain at the disposal of the Union Government and can be deployed in any State requiring the necessary reinforcements to maintain public order. Like the armed police battalions, IRBns can operate outside the jurisdiction of the State to which they are assigned, but with the consent of the other State(s) in whose territory they wish to temporarily operate.
Given these characteristics of the IRBns, it appears that the proposed CMPF would be akin to a marine version of IRBn but with additional powers of investigation. However, raising a CMPF along IRBn lines might not fulfil the objectives sought to be attained because of two reasons. Firstly, it might not be acceptable to all the States given that such a force will be only partially funded by the Union Government. Secondly, such marine IRBns might not be optimally utilised given the fact that coastal States and Union Territories have hitherto invariably demonstrated only an indifferent attitude towards coastal security.
In fact, the very suggestion for raising a CMPF reflects the reluctance of the coastal States and Union Territories to shoulder the responsibility of coastal security. A telling example of their reluctance is the uneven implementation of the Coastal Security Scheme (CSS) introduced by the Union Government in 2005-06 for strengthening coastal security. Under the scheme, the coastal States and Union Territories are required to establish coastal police stations, raise marine police and procure boats to patrol the shallow coastal waters. However, almost all coastal States and Union Territories, barring one or two, have implemented the scheme only half-heartedly at best. They went slow on the construction of coastal police stations and failed to sanction the required number of personnel for the coastal police stations. They justify their apathy by citing inadequate resources and the lack of threat perception from the sea. They even argue that coastal security is a responsibility which should be shouldered by the Union Government.
In reality, however, it is the Union Government that has been bearing the financial burden of the Coastal Security Scheme. Not only has the Union Government provided the coastal States and Union Territories considerable financial assistance to build coastal police stations and jetties, but it has also provided them interceptor boats and fuel to run them. In all, the Union Government has incurred an expenditure of Rs. 646 crore under Phase I and Rs. 1,580 crore under Phase II of the Coastal Security Scheme.
Given the lackadaisical attitude of the State Governments towards coastal security and given the poor performance of the marine police across all the coastal States and Union Territories, prudence dictates that the agencies of State governments should not be entrusted with the responsibility of patrolling coastal waters. However, creating a new organisation, such as the proposed CMPF, is not a solution either. Because, the CMPF would not only add another agency to the already crowded coastal security architecture but it would also introduce problems of coordination and turf wars.
Raising a new CMPF and wasting resources on their training and equipment is also neither necessary nor advisable given that the country already has a central organisation to protect the coast – the Indian Coast Guard (ICG). The duties and functions of the ICG include inter alia providing for safety and protection of offshore installations, protecting fishermen and assisting concerned authorities in anti-smuggling operations. Following the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the ICG has been given the additional responsibility of coastal security in territorial waters, including the areas patrolled by the marine police. Thus, the ICG not only has the required mandate but also the ability to shoulder the responsibility of coastal security. All it requires is further strengthening with required assets and manpower to patrol the coastal and shallow waters.
Creating a new organisation when faced with coastal security problems has been the practice of the Union Government – be it the customs marine organisation, the Indian Coast Guard or the Marine Police. It is time the Indian Government jettisons this habit and strengthens existing organisations to enhance coastal security.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.
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