October 17, 2021
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Enhancing maritime security

The Indian Coast Guard plays a crucial role in enhancing the maritime security of the nation as it protects maritime interests and enforces maritime law, with jurisdiction over the territorial waters of India, including its contiguous zone and exclusive economic zone. Constant surveillance is being maintained by Indian Coast guard as India has a coastline of about 7,500km and the EEZ covers an area of 2.172 million sq km. Specially the most vulnerable western region being the Kutch border(Gujarat coastline) sharing with Pakistan also known as Sir Creek, a 96 km (60 mi) tidal estuary on the border of  India and Pakistan which opens up into the Arabian Sea. The ICG, formally established in 1978 has evolved and modernized over the years and Shri Rajendra Singh, who retired as Director General of the Indian Coast Guard in 2019 discussed with Arti Bali about the operational challenges and threats. There are discussions going on for shifting the ICG from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in an effort to strengthen coastal security.


As you have headed the ICG in the past, what do you think were the main  challenges you faced under  your tenure. 

To start with, I will cite the mantra I imbibed from General George S patton, "Accept the Challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory. Standing on the other side of fence when I look back, I feel that it was due such challenges that my journey was highly satisfying and if you may allow me to self-indulge a little, I would say the journey was remarkable as well. The raison d'etre for a country's maritime force is to safeguard the nation's use of sea for its legitimate sovereign purpose. When I took over the helm of this fine maritime  service about three years back, it was indeed an honor. However the biggest  challenge was to bridge the gap between available resources and emerging requirements.

On the operational front, the challenge was the consistent surveillance of the vast and vulnerable Indian Coastline, which extends to over 7500kms with the limited resources at hand. However today, both due to close coordination with various central and state agencies and exponential induction rate of ships in the recent past, I am sanguine that we have achieved enhanced intensity of operations and thereby ensured secure and safer areas. On the Human Resource front, the ICG was facing shortages of manpower and due to the government support and through our enhanced rate of recruitment, we made substantial augmentation in our workforce so as to be able to meet the requirements of our mandate. Over 4000 manpower sanctions have been obtained in last five years which amounts to 25% of existing sanction. The sanctions were also translated to manpower strength at corresponding rate , shortage which was around 35% was reduced to below 10% during my tenure.

I personally feel that to sustain intensive operations, welfare measures need to commensurate. Therefore I took up another challenge to provide housing for all including officers and men. This was also my foremost dream. I am pleased to say that my team at CGHQ has worked tirelessly and as on date we have more than 80% housing. I am confident  that through consistent efforts, my dream of housing for all, will turn to reality by 2021-22.

What are your thoughts on the threats that ICG might face specially in the western region in the near future.

Drug trafficking, a multibillion transnational crime business, has diverse perpetrators involved in different segments of the market. Terrorists are important non-state beneficiaries of drug trafficking. In the recent drug catches by ICG (which amount to over 6500 crore in last three years), indicators of interlink have come to light, therefore this threat needs to be mitigated and guarded against.

As such due to the length , topography and nature, western region's coastline makes coastline security an extremely challenging task. Needless to mention, hostile neighbors add to the woe.

However, as a nation we are ever ready for such challenges. The Coast guard alongwith other important stakeholders like Indian Navy, BSF,CRPF, and Marine Police are working together continuously, with seamless cohesion and flow of information which ensures robust Coastal security mechanism.

Further, The Coast guard has always considered the fishing community as a valuable asset in maritime security. Through structured programmes ICG has been able to cultivate strong bond with the local fishermen and coastal communities in every coastal to act as eyes and ears for the security agencies.

What  do you think will be the focus of ICG for the ongoing and future capacity building activities.

A host of measures have been taken by the concerned departments under the Ministry of Defence, Home Affairs, Ministry of Shipping, Road transport and Highways and the ministry of Agriculture are being progressed on fast track with a view to overcome  the existing  and future challenges.

Their collective and focused efforts  are expected to result in a strengthened  and synergistic approach towards enhancing maritime security. The Coast Guard has augmented its force levels to enhance maritime surveillance capabilities through induction of additional surface and air assets. ICG has also intensified boarding operations apart from ushering in modern technology such as chain of static sensors and automatic identification system to complement the physical surveillance methodology.

As per Coast guard definitive Action programme (2017-22), Coast Guard has planned acquisition of 47 Surface platforms . Presently , 65 ships/boats are under construction in various shipyards.ICG has over  a period of time developed  a good vendor base for technical  and maintenance support across all stations where the ships are based. In addition, in-house repair facilities in the form of Base maintenance Unit (BMU), Coast Guard Afloat Support Unit (CASU)/ Ship Repair and maintenance Organisation (SRMO) are being strengthened with manpower and infrastructural support.

Various other capital acquisition projects have been initiated to strengthen Aerial surveillance of Maritime Zones of India including Mid-life upgrade of 17 Coast guard Dornier Aircraft, acquisition of 16 ALH and 14 Twin Engine Heavy Helicopters, Modernization of Airfield Infrastructure etc to name a few.


What is the status of modernization of the aviation branch of ICG and the acquisition of new choppers.

ICG has concluded the contract of 16 ALH MKIII helicopters with M/s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for its ship borne operations. Apart from this case for procurement of 14 Twin Engine Heavy Helicopters is also is in advance stage. Further, the fixed wing arm of ICG will enhance its operational capability manifold with the likely induction of 06 Multi Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMMA) in the near future. With the induction of all 36 aircraft, total strength of aviation fleet will rise to about 100 aircraft thereby making ICG aviation wing a formidable force to reckon.


What are your recommendations for acquiring new ships and related technology keeping in mind the changing security situation.

The augmentation of surface platforms is an important step taken to strengthen the Indian Coast Guard for defence preparedness. ICG has been proactively pursuing augmentation of surface assets with a fleet of new generation ships fitted  with latest  state-of-art equipment, keeping in line with the latest technological trends. Seven ship acquisition contracts for 51ships/boats were signed during my watch. At present, ICG has a fleet strength to around 145. All the new generation vessels are being fitted with latest propulsion systems, state -of-art equipment and machinery, keeping in line with the latest technological trends.

The XIII Plan (Coast Guard Definitive Action Plan 2017-22) has been catered for acquisition of 47 commissioned surface platforms. The acquisition programme has been appropriately planned in phased manner to enable building with focus on consolidation.

How ICG is going to evolve as a multi tasking force so as to tackle with the modern conflicts. Do you think to be a potent force in future, ICG will require any major organizational restructuring to better accommodate the technology and manpower.

Operation in modern times have witnessed, a time  and space collapse. The dynamics of modern conflict require synergized joint operation in all domains and dimension that is the land, sea and air. Such scenarios also warrant, quick and smooth transition from one operational dimension to other for effectively deterring the adversaries. Inland waters, being domain of land forces and the sea, being domain of maritime forces, inter-operability and synergy between each dimension is paramount for securing all ends in the overall matrix of national security. The existing command and control setup has to undergo a complete metamorphosis. With the armed forces having moved into areas of longer reach weapons and synergy required to achieve force multiplier effect in the ops field, the present concept of independent heads is no more practicable. There has to be two distinct chains of command and control.

Formulating operational plans and conduct of operations may require an apex institute which in turn will exercise coordination and control of all concerned forces in times of eventuality.


What is the most important mission of ICG and which organizational problem you think should get attention or action, if any.

International Cooperation :The importance of regional maritime cooperation flows from  the complexity of the maritime environment in the region, overlapping maritime jurisdiction and risks of tensions and disputes at sea. As well as being essential for the effective management of regional seas, maritime cooperation is an important maritime confidence and security building measure (MCSBM) and is a recognized building block for greater regional stability. The vision for the government of India and the extended arms of cooperation to the SAARC nations is a remarkable guiding factor in cooperation of India in the field of International cooperation.

Strengthening of Intelligence organisation:  The importance of credible intelligence towards the conduct of a successful operation is well recognized by all law enforcement and military organisations. It is equally imperative to build up a sound intelligence mechanism which addresses the specific requirements of our organisation, so as to ensure a focused approach and utilization of related expertise.

Monitoring and Control of fishing boats: Majority of the boats sail without proper lifesaving and position reporting equipment. Movement of the vessel cannot be ascertained without availability of AIS onboard or though analysis of GPS data. No regulation exists for mandatory  carriage of GPS, AIS and lifesaving equipment for boats less than 20 meters. ICG has strongly recommended provision of such law in marine fisheries bill which is under formulation.


Whether ICG is getting its required funding for its modernization programs by the government?

Hon'ble Prime Minister's vision of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ and ‘Make in India’ is immensely contributing to the fast track growth and development  to the nation, besides peace and stability in the region. Further, PM's focused approach towards capacity and capability building has ushered a remarkable transformation of the armed forces including ICG. Modernization of the forces and improvement of strategic infrastructure are receiving his maximum attention and rank among his highest priorities. And for which we have received unbounded support from Ministry of Defence which in turn has transformed the capacity and capability of ICG like never before.


Any recent and upcoming cooperation ICG can plan to have with like minded maritime forces. How many countries have signed MOU with ICG.

With PM's vision SAGAR-Security and growth for all in the Region as backdrop, ICG has played its role as a major facilitator  and has been involved  in multilateral initiatives .ICG is the founding member of the forums of Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agency meeting (HACGAM) and Coast Guard Global Summit (CGGS) coordinated by Japan. Recently, ICG has been designated as the Competent national and Op Authority under the MoU signed by India  for oil and chemical pollution response within the South Asian Seas region under the South Asian Cooperative environment Programme (SACEP) involving Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Since India has developed Indo-Pacific strategy and looking forward to work with US, Japan and Australian coast guards and naval forces, do you think ICG can formulate its maritime strategy commensurate with other countries?

India's definition of the Indo-Pacific , it stands for a free, open, inclusive region, which embraces us all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity. It's very crucial to mention that at Shangri-la Dialogue in 2018, PM said, "India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate."

So I think we should work to ensure free and open region with respect for international law. And accordingly in line  with that vision  we are seeking newer avenues of interaction and exchange of best practices with other pacific nations including US and Australia , rather than developing a strategy.


Will ICG be comfortable in participating in multi-nation capacity building exercises in future.

ICG's mutual bonds of friendship and cooperation with the coast guards in the region, are at an all time high  as also the profile and standing in the international community. Multilateral forums such as ASCEP,RECAAP and HAGAM look up to the Indian Coast guard for leadership and inspiration. Conduct of joint exercises with other countries maritime agencies has synergized our operational philosophy with the consolidation of international best practices  and the emerging operational concepts worldwide. Apart from MOUs for cooperation on maritime issues  with other countries , ICG also conducts various capacity building programmes  regularly with foreign coast guard personnel including offering participation in National level exercises on Search and rescue  and oil pollution response. We regularly conduct bilateral exercise for capacity building with neighbouring countries.

Apart from these exercise Indian Coast Guard, Sri Lankan Coast Guard and Maldives National Defence Forces (Coast Guard) have been conducting combined exercises code name DOSTI since 1991.


What are the technical capabilities required by ICG to Combat Transnational Illegal Activities at Sea.

Upgradation of technical capabilities is a continuous process.ICG has always being forthcoming in building home grown technological base. Be it simple surveillance equipment, ship acquisition or the static sensors, ICG has supported the Make in India concept . One of the major technical capability acquired in the past is static sensors.

The phase I chain of static sensors have been established, aimed at monitoring high traffic  density areas and high sensitive areas along the coastline of India. A total of 46 Radar Stations are functional. The project was concluded with M/S BEL, Bangalore in Sep 2011.Phase II of Coastal Security System through M/S BEL has been planned to achieve near gap-free electronic surveillance  along the Indian coastline .CSN Phase II will have 38+04Mobile additional sites. Other than Radar Stations, the Vessel Traffic Systems (VTS) of Gulf of Kutch and Gulf of Khambat and integrated Coastal Surveillance System (ICSS) of DRDO located in Chandipur Balasore sector shall be integrated into the existing network.

With climate change a reality what are the plans you think ICG should adopt to preserve the marine environment and ecology.

The clean India campaign initiated by the government of India is being utilized as a stepping stone  for achieving ICG's goal of Marine Environment Protection. Therefore, in April 2016, ICG took proactive approach for extending  the 'Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan  to the maritime zones of India and transforming it to in association with the maritime and coastal community. The ICG also steers Coastal cleanup activities with active participation from ports, oil handling agencies, fisherman, state government and local populace including students and social organisation through dedicated programmes conducted frequently. The Coast Guard launches a special operation 'Olivia', annually from November to May for protection of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles visiting Gahirmatha coast in Odhisa for mass nesting.

Till date we have planted more than 42000 trees around ICG stations  and units. Also use of plastic and plastic bags has also been banned in ICG units.

What were the achievements of ICG during your tenure.

The main achievement during my tenure is the officers, enrolled personnel and civilians who were highly motivated and helped in steering the growth of the service overcoming challenging situations within limited resources, manpower and strict time schedules. In addition to the operational response for search and rescue at sea, combating marine oil pollution and ensuring a robust coastal security and law enforcement framework has been the result of the hard work and professionalism of the personnel  manning the ships , air squadrons and hovercraft fully supported supported by the operational control authorities ashore.ICH launched various schemes during my tenure were Swachch Bharat abhiyan ICG has pursued all CG units to participate in such activities  with emphasis on involvement of families, local organizations and other organizations.

Digital India : ICG has consistently marched towards objective to Transform our coast to Digital Coast Guard. ICG won Business World Smart Technical Solution of the year 2018 is a testimony of collective efforts. High speed internet access has been established for centralized secured intranet facility  at CGHQ using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure has been successfully implemented.  The mega project of Digital Coast Guard costing over Rs400 Crores establishing Fiber Optic network across all CG units  with data centre  at Noida  and data recovery centre at Bengaluru has also been sanctioned. Implementation of this project will mark the complete digitization of ICG and usher advanced communication and information technology.

Women Empowerment: ICG continued to explore newer horizons and ensured equal opportunities for women officers. ICG has taken initiative and exclusive facility of girl hostel for ward of CG personnel at major cities have been catered.

Antyodya Scheme: The ICG organises community interaction programmes for fishermen to bring in awareness about safety and security at sea and to sensitize the fishing community on the prevailing security. Imparting counseling sessions and providing opportunity for them to join the main stream including job in armed forces . Such initiatives, in turn has furthered the ICG’s aim of fishing community as eyes and ears of coast guard.

Make in India : Presently 12 offshore patrol vessels , 19 fast patrol vessels and 25 Interceptor Boasts are being indigenously built  at various Indian shipyards . Remarkably, except 18 ACV the entire fleet of Ships and aircraft is indigenous.

Collaborative Approach : A conclave of subordinate Officers is held annually at Coast guard headquarters in early June  with the aim  to provide an opportunity  to the Subordinate officers to bring in their fresh ideas and suggestions on the varied facets of the Coast Guard Organistaion .

As per the current scenario prevailing what type of transformation has been done to counter the challenges.

Regular surveillance is being maintained by Indian Coast guard within the EEZ.  The ships, aircraft and hovercraft are maintaining round the clock surveillance along the International Maritime boundary line (IMBL) and in vulnerable areas. At any given time there are 35-40 ships and 12-14 aircraft are flying everyday in our EEZ at sea to bolster our surveillance efforts.

The threat matrix is regularly evaluated and accordingly these are dovetailed in deployments. In addition, the deployments are synchronized with other Coastal Security Stakeholders. ICG has also established Chain of radar/ Static sensors along the Coastline in a phased manner. Coastal Surveillance network phase-I comprising of 46 sensors are already in place which are further going to be augmented in phase II by 38+04 mobile in future.

There is also cooperation in intelligence sharing. Further, MoU for cooperation on maritime issues have been signed with Coast Guard agencies of Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Oman. In addition, ICG also conducts various capacity building programs regularly for foreign Coast Guard personnel including offering participation in National level exercises on Search and Rescue and Oil pollution Response. ICG  is looking forward to have mutual cooperation with Indonesia and Myanmar in future in terms of collaboration.