In a rare show of character, first time the Navy chief DK Joshi resigned this week, taking moral responsibility after a fire broke out on board the submarine INS Sindhuratna, leaving seven sailors injured and two dead. Keeping upright character of the armed forces, it is absolutely in tune. The real issues of larger accountability behind maritime security and naval accidents should not fade away with this resignation. The political bosses who are responsible for series of accidents and loss of precious lives cannot and should not escape from compass of moral responsibility.
India has a coastline of 7516 kms, including 2200 kms of island territories. Our trade and key defence installations are on the same coastal line. To ensure maritime security and strengthening naval infrastructure a plan was proposed for submarine acquisition way back in 1964. It was revisited only after the terrorist attack by Kasab & Co through coastal roots. Since then the Government has been barely able to complete the first phase of Coastal Surveillance Network Project. All other reforms are still entangled in the red tape of the Ministry of Defence.
The situation on actual naval infrastructural front is worse. India’s navy had a fleet of only 16 submarines to guard such a long coastline. The recent accident off the coast of Mumbai was the 10th accident in last seven months involving a naval vessel, and the third involving a naval submarine. Battery malfunctioning is cited as the prime cause for the latest accident. On earlier occasions also frivolous causes were given with subsequent actions on defence personnel. Such actions meant for managing public opinion through media cannot ambush the true causes for repeated accidents.
Since Independence, coastal security had always been neglected by the Indian policymakers and corrective measures are pondered only as crisis management. The ground realities are completely neglected by Delhi centric approach without taking coastal states along. The wide gap between the expectations of the defence forces and civilian managed defence administration is another important ground for disregard. There is an urgent need to establish an integrated defence coordination system led by defence personnel and not by IAS officers.
Most of the naval vessels are purchased from Russia, upgraded in India, got extensions after expiry, are bound to face material failure. The corrupt and lethargic procurement process has become biggest obstacle in acquiring or building our own vessels. As witnessed in the AugustaWestland deal, UPA government has always bowed down to the vested interests, compromising national security and sanctity. The corrupt and casual approach of the Congress on pertinent security issues is other reason for jeopardised naval security.
On the one hand when China along with other South Asian neighbours is tightening loops through encirclement policy, enlarging her maritime presence on every corner of India, we have lost whatever little strength we had, with Singhu Rakshak, and now Sindhuratna.
Though, it is too late to expect anything from the sinking Congress but it should provide some solace but enlarging the accountability up to Defence Minister Mr Clean, just to ensure the high morale of the defence forces.