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Lecturrete topic 249 - Coastal security of India



India, with its vast coastline stretching over 7,500 kilometers, faces unique challenges in ensuring coastal security. The nation's maritime boundary encompasses significant economic zones, vital trade routes, and strategic military interests. As the geopolitical landscape evolves, so too does the nature of threats, from traditional maritime incursions to non-state actors and environmental hazards. This article delves into the multifaceted aspects of India's coastal security, examining historical contexts, contemporary challenges, strategic measures, and future prospects, supported by relevant statistics and case studies.

Historical Context of Coastal Security in India

Ancient and Medieval Periods

Historically, India has had a rich maritime tradition, with ancient civilizations like the Indus Valley engaging in trade with distant lands. Coastal cities like Lothal served as bustling ports, underscoring the importance of maritime activities. However, the focus on coastal security as a formal strategy was not prevalent in ancient times.

During the medieval period, coastal regions faced threats from invading forces and pirates. Notably, the Chola dynasty maintained a powerful navy that safeguarded its maritime interests and conducted expeditions across Southeast Asia.

Colonial Era

The arrival of European colonial powers in the 16th century marked a significant shift in coastal security dynamics. The Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British established fortified settlements and naval bases to secure trade routes and territories. The British East India Company, in particular, developed extensive maritime infrastructure, laying the groundwork for modern coastal security mechanisms.

Contemporary Challenges in Coastal Security

Traditional Maritime Threats

India's coastal security is continually challenged by traditional maritime threats, including territorial disputes and the presence of hostile naval forces. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is a strategic hotspot, with major powers like China increasing their naval presence. The India-China standoff and frequent maritime patrols underscore the need for vigilant coastal defenses.

Statistics from the Indian Ministry of Defense highlight that the Indian Navy conducted over 2,000 coastal patrols and surveillance missions in the fiscal year 2022-23, reflecting the ongoing necessity to deter and respond to maritime threats.

Non-State Actors and Terrorism

Non-state actors, including terrorist groups and pirates, pose significant risks to India's coastal security. The 2008 Mumbai attacks, where terrorists infiltrated the city via the sea, highlighted glaring vulnerabilities in coastal defenses. In response, India has enhanced its maritime surveillance and intelligence capabilities, but challenges remain.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows a decline in piracy incidents from 17 in 2011 to just 2 in 2021, indicating improved security measures. However, the persistent threat of maritime terrorism necessitates continuous vigilance and enhancement of security protocols.

Environmental and Natural Disasters

India's coastline is also vulnerable to environmental threats such as cyclones, tsunamis, and coastal erosion. The Indian Ocean is one of the most cyclone-prone regions, with severe cyclones like Fani (2019) and Amphan (2020) causing widespread devastation. Effective coastal security involves disaster preparedness and response strategies to mitigate the impact of natural calamities.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), cyclones cause an average annual economic loss of approximately $4.5 billion in India. Strengthening coastal infrastructure and early warning systems is crucial for minimizing these losses.

Strategic Measures for Coastal Security

Policy Framework and Institutions

India's coastal security framework is governed by multiple agencies and policies aimed at ensuring comprehensive maritime safety. The Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Ministry of Shipping play pivotal roles in formulating and implementing coastal security strategies.

The Coastal Security Scheme, launched in 2005 and subsequently revised, aims to bolster infrastructure and operational capabilities. The scheme includes the establishment of coastal police stations, construction of jetties, and procurement of patrol vessels.

Role of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard

The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) are the primary forces responsible for maritime security. The Indian Navy undertakes blue-water operations, projecting power and ensuring strategic dominance in the IOR. In contrast, the ICG focuses on coastal and offshore security, conducting patrols, search and rescue operations, and anti-smuggling activities.

In 2023, the Indian Navy commissioned the INS Vikrant, its first indigenously built aircraft carrier, enhancing its maritime capabilities. The ICG, with over 150 vessels and 62 aircraft, plays a crucial role in coastal surveillance and law enforcement.

Technological Advancements

Technological advancements are integral to modern coastal security. India has invested in sophisticated surveillance systems, including the Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN), which comprises radar stations along the coastline to monitor maritime activities in real-time.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) supports coastal security through satellite-based surveillance, providing crucial data for monitoring and responding to threats. Additionally, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and automated identification systems (AIS) enhances situational awareness and response capabilities.

Case Studies and Regional Collaborations

Mumbai Attacks (2008)

The 2008 Mumbai attacks serve as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities in coastal security. Terrorists exploited gaps in maritime surveillance to infiltrate the city, leading to the loss of over 160 lives. In the aftermath, India revamped its coastal security apparatus, implementing stringent measures such as joint coastal patrols and enhanced intelligence sharing.

Cyclone Amphan (2020)

Cyclone Amphan, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Bay of Bengal, tested India's disaster preparedness and response capabilities. The timely evacuation of nearly 2.5 million people and the deployment of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) showcased effective coordination between various agencies. However, the extensive damage to coastal infrastructure highlighted the need for resilient and adaptive coastal security measures.

Regional Collaborations

India's coastal security strategy also involves regional collaborations to address common maritime threats. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) facilitate cooperation on maritime safety and security.

India's participation in the Malabar naval exercises, alongside the United States, Japan, and Australia, exemplifies its commitment to maintaining a secure maritime environment. These exercises enhance interoperability and strengthen collective responses to regional security challenges.

Future Prospects and Challenges

Evolving Threats

The nature of coastal threats is continually evolving, necessitating adaptive strategies. Cybersecurity threats to maritime infrastructure, climate change impacts, and geopolitical shifts in the Indo-Pacific region are emerging challenges that India must address. The increasing use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and the potential for underwater cyber-attacks highlight the need for advanced technological defenses.

Policy and Infrastructure Development

To ensure robust coastal security, India must continue to invest in policy frameworks and infrastructure development. The implementation of the Sagarmala project, aimed at modernizing ports and enhancing coastal infrastructure, is a step in the right direction. However, sustained efforts are required to build resilient coastal communities and infrastructure capable of withstanding both man-made and natural threats.

Enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is critical for effective coastal security. India needs to enhance its MDA capabilities through integrated information-sharing mechanisms and advanced surveillance technologies. Collaboration with international partners and participation in global maritime security initiatives will bolster India's MDA.


Coastal security in India is a complex and multifaceted domain, encompassing traditional military threats, non-state actors, environmental challenges, and emerging technological risks. The historical evolution of India's maritime strategy, coupled with contemporary measures and regional collaborations, underscores the importance of a robust and adaptive coastal security framework.

The continuous investment in technological advancements, policy reforms, and infrastructure development is essential for safeguarding India's maritime interests. As the nation navigates the complexities of the 21st century, the role of coastal security in ensuring national security, economic prosperity, and regional stability remains paramount. By addressing evolving threats and enhancing maritime domain awareness, India can secure its shores and contribute to a safer and more stable maritime environment.