It has been almost 14 years since the Mumbai terror attack and India’s port and coastal security is still a work in progress.
Recently, the security establishment was caught off guard when an unidentified and unmanned yacht with three AK-74 guns and more than 600 live bullets were found off Harihareshwar beach in Raigad, just 200 km from Mumbai. In February this year, a cyber-attack crippled Jawaharlal Nehru Container Terminal (JNPCT), the country’s busiest state-owned container gateway. Incidents like these, and may others, raise serious questions about the competence of maritime security agencies.
India has a 7,500-km-long coastline, 14,500 km of potentially navigable waterways and strategic location on key international maritime trade routes. About 95 per cent of India’s trade by volume and 65 pc by value is done through maritime transport facilitated by ports.
While quite a few initiatives focusing on port-led development are in progress under the aegis of the Sagarmala project of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, there is a need for structuring the approach through scientific and consultative planning.
Ports play a crucial role in both maritime security and international trade. For strengthening the country’s maritime security apparatus, it becomes essential to address the numerous vulnerabilities and demands of the Indian ports. A secure and modern port holds key to a peaceful and robust international trade.
This calls for a revamp of the Indian Ports Act, 1908, to reflect the presentday frameworks, incorporate international obligations, address emerging environmental concerns, and aid the consultative development of the ports sector in the national interest.
A step in this direction is the draft Indian Ports Bill, 2022, which was released by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways on August 18. The Bill aims to bring in sweeping reforms in the sector by bringing non-major ports into the national fold, creating a new mechanism for resolution of disputes, and empowering maritime state development council (MSDC). The draft Bill, which seeks to repeal and replace the over 110-year-old Indian Ports Act, will seek comments from stakeholders before being tabled in Parliament.
The proposed Bill will homogenise and streamline the development of the maritime sector, along with, promoting ease-of-doing business by eliminating unnecessary delays, disagreements and defining responsibilities