Did the coast guard lie to the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) in a bid to hide its failure to stop the LeT terrorists who attacked Mumbai on the night of November 26, 2008?
The CAG, which released its detailed performance audit on the coast guard in Delhi on Friday, made it clear that the force responsible for protecting India’s maritime boundaries did its best to fudge figures trying to hide its failures before 26/11.
But what is worrying is that the coast guard, the CAG noted, continues to be an inadequate force, which probably explains how MT Pavit managed to reach the Mumbai coast without being detected.
In its seventh report of 2011-2012, the CAG says in respect to “Maharashtra and Gujarat” for the “period leading to 26/11”, the coast guard “did not conduct a single boarding operation” on any suspicious vessels that they spotted on the high seas before the attack took place.
Also, the coast guard headquarters tried to fudge this when auditors sought their official records.
“Poor internal controls also led audit to conclude that the actual number of boarding operations carried out by the coast guard ships was less than the figures furnished by the headquarters.”
In short, the coast guard tried to project more boarding operations when, in reality, it did not do any in the days preceding the attack.
In effect this means: had the coast guard done an honest job, the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai might not have happened.
In fact “coast guard vessels on patrol duty did not undertake the prescribed boarding operations per quarter for identification and investigation of fishing boats/ships”.
Even the joint coastal patrolling (JCP) with the navy in Maharashtra was discontinued in September 2005, following a decision by the ministry of home affairs, the CAG report said.
“The coastal patrolling was, thereafter, left to the state police and customs, which had meagre operational assets to handle the operation.”
Vice Admiral RF Contractor, who headed the coast guard at that time, was rewarded with a job after he retired as a member of the newly formed Armed Forces Tribunal.
Contractor, stationed in Mumbai as an administrative member of the tribunal, was evasive in his comments on the CAG’s findings.
“I don’t recall any of the data that the CAG might have used,” he said. “Please contact the ministry of defence or naval headquarters for a response.”
Contractor might have also forgotten that the coast guard functions out of temporary quarters on rent and does not have enough ships or boats to do its job even after the 26/11 terror attack.
The CAG notes that coastal stations “do not have their own assets and are using hired vessels”.
Worse, they are “forced to operate out of temporary structures as the land is not owned by them”.
The failure to detect MT Pavit could also be attributed to the fact that the coast guard uses “ships which have outlived their prescribed life and are meant to be de-commissioned”.
The ships are still to be phased out as the government has failed to buy new ships.
Currently, the coast guard “possesses only 65 % of the required force level”, the CAG said in its report.
The CAG also defended its competence to conduct a performance audit on the coast guard and lack of co-ordination among the various security agencies.
Rekha Gupta, deputy auditor general, said, “The report is purely on the infrastructure mechanism on what was missing and what should be there. And we are a team of competent officials, who can make such findings.”
Another major reason attributed by the CAG for the coast guards’ failure to protect the country’s maritime boundaries is the contradictory orders issued by the Union government.
The group of ministers reviewing India’s security after the Kargil debacle had appointed the coast guard as the lead intelligence agency to be held responsible for coordinating with all security agencies.
But it seems the UPA government forgot this when it “initially designated the coast guard as the agency for guarding the coastline” after the 26/11 terror attack.
The navy was designated as the overall authority responsible for maritime security, including coastal security.