Fragile Indian Coasts


Written on 9:00 AM by nitesh

Recent attacks on Mumbai have raised concerns about the fragile coastline, Southern India which was supposed to be a safer from terrorist attacks is no longer safe now, thanks to the long fragile coastline. New agencies are coming up to tackle terror menace but the real problem lie somewhere else.

Indian fishermen while fishing mistakenly and intentionally cross the sea border to fish in sea waters of Pakistan. These poor are arrested there and their boats are captured. Some 200 Indian boats are missing, when Indian delegation visited Pakistan in the month of October and enquired about the boats, no one was willing to tell but somehow they came to know that the boats are auctioned at throw away prices. A 20 lakhs rupees boat is auctioned at around 2-3 lakhs. This is very dangerous in context of terror attacks as we all know the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai came to India via an Indian boat Kuber which was captured according to GPS signals in Pakistani waters.

Chances of Indian boat in Pakistani hands going unchecked are very bright. Casualness of Indian intelligence and Gujarat police is so high that they hardly care to question the fishermen who after spending 1-2 years in Pakistani jails return back to India.

Problem of Indian fishermen crossing over in Pakistani waters has increased in the last five years because of redrawing of the borders. Line was earlier parallel to Pakistani coast and perpendicular to Indian coast is now at an angle of 45 degrees. To our bad luck in the Pakistani waters lies the point where Indus valley delta meets the Arabian Sea abundant in fish, crabs etc. New borders have considerable decreased the fish abundant areas for Indian fishermen and as result many wander into Pakistani waters and are captured. Pakistan has caught 383 boats since 2003 of which 200 are missing and 183 are in dilapidated state.

So now the question arises why our agencies are not able to regulate fishing and keep a strict vigil on the fishermen and prevent them from wandering into Pakistani waters.

There is only one reason shortage of staff and equipments. Gujarat which has the longest coastline among the Indian states (1650kms) , has around 24000 mechanized boats and 5000 trawlers. As per the rules upto 12 kms Gujarat police guards them and from there on till 200kms its Indian coastguard. Other agencies are Gujarat Maritime board which gives certificates to the boats and customs which issues identity cards to the fishermen. A typical custom officer has around 200kms of area to manage, with only 150 staff and 3-4 vehicles. With such a shortage of manpower we cannot expect them to cross check the ids and other details.

A typical journey of fishing boat coasts around 1 lakh for 10 days and the crew is expected to come with a rich haul of fisheries to cover the cost of trip, salaries and profit. Such pressure is bound to take them to the Pakistani water which is abundant in fishes and crabs. Indian waters a polluted by pollutants from jamnagar refinery, tata chemicals, Gujarat alkalies and above all the ship breaking yard at alang has killed all the ships.

Gujarat coast guard is also very ill equipped having only 4 ships, 2 aircraft and 2 hovercrafts to manage the whole area. It takes 45 minutes to one hour to physically check a boat, so checking of all the boats is not possible. Only thing can be done is that proper ids are given after thorough checking and GPS installed on all the boats fishing be regulated by the coastal police. Fishing harbors and ports should be separated for security reasons.

7000 men coast guard of India is very short staffed to handle the 7500 kms long coastline of India.

There are enough laws and agencies in India. Passing of NIA might have brought the terrorism from state list into center list as well but the real problem is not the agencies but the short staffing in the agencies and lack of coordination among the existing ones.

This post is a summary of the cover story of current issue of Tehelka magazine.

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