The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on Thursday said that the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai could have been avoided but for the “lackadaisical and irresponsible” attitude of those at the helm of affairs for securing the country’s maritime interest and security.
In a damning remark, the PAC, headed by Congress MP from Kerala KV Thomas, said it were the higher-ups, “especially in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)” who were responsible for the failure of Operation Swan, a joint operation of the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard launched in April 1993, one month after the Mumbai serial blasts.
In its 21st report on the Coast Guard’s role and functioning, the PAC said that had Operation Swan been conducted in right earnest, and intense coastal patrolling sustained, an incident like 26/11 would not have happened.
Picking holes in the overall coastal security mechanism, the report said that the Coast Guard was kept out of the inner layer operations in Maharashtra till December 2010. Notably, 26/11 happened in 2008, but this could not be taken care of for even two years after that.
While the Coast Guard comes under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it is the MHA that provides state marine police with training modules and equipment like boats.
Operation Swan was launched to prevent smuggling of arms, ammunition, and other contraband and carry out intensive surveillance and patrol along the Maharashtra and Gujarat coasts.
The parliamentary panel has been critical of the fact that joint coastal patrolling undertaken by the Navy in Maharashtra was discontinued by September 2005 on the basis of an MHA decision to establish state coastal police stations. The coastal patrolling was, thereafter, left to the state marine police and customs, which had meager operational assets, PAC notes.
The PAC audit report also pointed out that, by March 2008, eight months prior to the Mumbai attacks, only 47 coastal police stations – 10 in Gujarat and 12 in Maharashtra – were set up, out of the 73 planned across nine coastal states and Union territories.
Explaining its position to PAC, the MoD, on the other hand, submitted that the joint coastal patrolling was not discontinued but “subsumed” into the new Coastal Security Initiatives, which were introduced consequent to a cabinet committee on security directive of February 16, 2009, that mandated marine police with coastal patrolling.