The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) will not shift from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), at least for now.
The MHA had made a proposal to the MoD, with government sources saying the ICG can better serve the country by supervising shallow waters, because the Navy has effective control of the waterbodies beyond the borders.
The MoD, however, rejected MHA’s proposal.
Reports say the Coast Guard not already focusing on inland waterways and waterbodies is a “weakness for coastal security” because the local population remains exposed to threats like domestic insurgency and natural disasters like floods.
This is the second time the MHA is making this proposal. The MoD had rejected its first in 2016.
Why does the MHA want the ICG?
Reports say the MHA is likely reviewing a 2018 report from the Directors General of Police (DGPs), a Border Security Force (BSF)-led high-level committee of police officers.
One of the main concerns outlined in the report is that India’s domestic transport channels on land and water are open to vulnerabilities.
The suggested reform includes placing the ICG under the supervision of the MHA, not the MoD, so it can coordinate better with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), BSF, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), and the state police.
“The coast guards work in coordination with the Navy, which has overarching maritime security role, but the intra-agencies synergy is lacking,” says the DGP report.
The MHA believes that if the ICG comes under its wing, the latter can then work with the local and state police to improve crisis management. Moreover, the ICG will also help to patrol both land and sea.
At the core, the MHA wants to streamline ICG’s capabilities, use it for domestic purposes, and treat it as a line of communication with the Navy for external threats.
Why has the MoD rejected the proposal?
In 2016, the MoD said the ICG was already tasked with protecting the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), seas that are 200 nautical miles (about 370 kilometres) beyond or adjacent to a country’s territory as defined by the United Nations.
The MoD says the ICG already prevents terrorist attacks, controls pollution, and checks sea vessels in the EEZ, and hence, it can’t spare it for domestic activities. It adds that the ICG diplomatically engages with other countries’ coast guard forces, as well.
The ICG even acts as a barrier to illicit drug trade carried out via sea.
Now, the MoD has rejected the proposal again, claiming that the issues the MHA has voiced can be solved if the Navy and ICG coordinate better.
Although the MoD has rejected the proposal, Indian states seem to be coming around to the idea of the ICG being under the MHA and being a one-stop shop for domestic patrolling.
The successes of the ICG are well known.
Just last week, the ICG caught smugglers transporting narcotics worth Rs 500 crore, including 100 kg of heroin. A crew intercepted the drug operation off the Gujarat coast on March 26.
That same month, ICG ships rescued 16 scientists and 30 crew members on board a research vessel near New Mangalore.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.