NAVY AND COAST GUARD SAY ITS NECESSARY FROM SECURITY POINT OF VIEW
By bappaditya paul
Persistence pressure from the Navy and the Coast Guard notwithstanding, West Bengal government is reluctant to set up a State Maritime Board for managing the ports in the state.While the Navy and the Coast Guard insist that a Maritime Board is must for better coordination from the point of view of coastal security, Bengal government is opposed to the idea on the grounds that the state does not have any private ports. Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu have already put in place a Maritime Board; Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are in the process of doing so. According to sources in the Eastern Naval Command and the Coast Guard in Visakhapatnam, for sometime now they have been trying to impress upon the West Bengal government to form a Maritime Board. “Bengal shares about 157-km of the eastern coastline and there is also a vast length of riverine border with Bangladesh lying in the Sunderbans. Hence it is necessary to put in place a State Maritime Board to secure the coastal areas through constant coordination between all stakeholders,” they said.
Towards that end Navy and Coast Guard officials have held several meetings with senior state government officials, the last one being held in July 2013.
The state government however is lukewarm to the proposal stating that all ports in the state are owned and operated by government agencies and there is already more than one mechanism in place for coordination with the armed forces.“The primary aim of having a State Maritime Board is to manage and monitor minor ports owned / operated by private entities. In West Bengal, we at present have two ports at Kolkata and Haldia and another is proposed at Sagar in South 24-Parganas; but all of these are owned by the Central government and no private parties are involved in the management,” said a senior official in the Bengal Home Department not wanting to be named. “The West Bengal Maritime Board Bill that was cleared in year 2000 makes it clear that a Maritime Board is to be formed for managing minor and private ports. Now if we are to set up a Maritime Board despite not having any minor or private ports, it will amount to violating the legislation. We have tried to explain this to the armed forces many times but for some reason they are not seeing the logic,” he said. The West Bengal government instead is willing to constitute a State Maritime Committee drawing representatives from Kolkata and Haldia ports, the Navy, the Coast Guard and the state administration. “There already exists a co-ordination committee co-chaired by our chief secretary and the Army’s GOC for the Bengal Area and it meets at regular interval to sort out issues. But if the Navy and Coast Guard are too eager to have a dedicated mechanism, we can form a Maritime Committee instead,” the officer added.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 02 January 2014.)