Operation Swan is still an ugly duckling

Written by Surabhi Rastogi | Surabhi | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 29 2008, 07:26am hrs
The open waters along Mumbais coast used by terrorists to sneak into the city would have been much safer if the UPA governments ambitious Operation Swan was fully operational. Approved by the government in 2005, its key objective was to safeguard the countrys territorial waters along the nine coastal states and four Union territories. The trigger was the use of the sea route by terrorists during the 1991 Mumbai serial blasts to ferry arms and explosives.

Several attacks later, the scheme is still on the drawing board. The home ministrys outcome budget for 2007-08 concedes that there has been a delay in implementation of the scheme. TR Baalu, minister for road transport & shipping said on Friday that the Indian Space Research Organisation will be asked to expedite the tracking system its developing for small fishing boats.

Operation Swan envisaged a three-layered security blanket. The first involved joint patrolling along the coasts of Maharashtra and Gujarat by the navy, state police and customs forces. The next was setting up 73 coastal police stations, 97 check-posts, 58 outposts and 30 barracks, with the cost to be borne by the omnibus Coastal Security Scheme. The third part was to be financing security support to litoral states by the Centre.

The main cause of the delay in Operation Swan is the cancellation by the defence ministry of Goa Shipyard Ltds contract coast guard interceptor boats. This was due to the high cost quoted by the shipyard, the home ministrys report notes. The defence ministry has now issued a new request for proposals through competitive bidding, but experts point out that even if a bidder were finalised by year-end, delivery would take up to a year.

Moreover, the navy has been withdrawn from coastal patrolling. Earlier this week, K Damle, flag officer commanding-in-chief of Southern Naval Command, said the protection of the west coast is under Operation Swan. This is the responsibility of the coast guard and the local states as the navy had been relieved of this responsibility some time ago, he said.

A joint patrolling exercise was slated to be fully rolled out over six years, beginning 2006, by setting up three coast guard stations equipped with 15 interceptor boats as a joint venture between the ministry of home affairs and the ministry of defence. The customs department has responsibility to patrol Indias territorial waters up to 24 nautical miles, from where the navy and coast guard take over.

Land for the coast guard stations has also not been transferred to the coast guard by the governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Of the three coast guard stations planned, only one at Veraval in Gujarat is functional and the coast guard has taken over patrolling the Gujarat coast.