The Sethusamudram project continues to be dogged by controversy: Maritime security is the latest concern.
Coast Guard director general vice-admiral R.F. Contractor raised these concerns on Thursday. The security threat comes from non-state actors such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Given the present circumstances, these cannot be dismissed as the mere paranoia of an edgy naval establishment.
In the past year, the LTTE has mounted successful air attacks in Colombo and the Anuradhapura air base. It has a history of attacking Lankan naval and maritime assets (including a daring attack on Trincomalee harbour). It accomplishes these using its waterborne wing, the Sea Tigers. In this respect, it has quasi-state power.
The Sethusamudram project will open at best a shallow channel that will permit slow traffic through the Palk Strait. This, even in the best of conditions, is a security risk. Pirates make use of similar conditions in the Malacca Straits, not far away in Indonesian waters. For hostile actors such as the LTTE, which only want to destroy, this is a good opportunity.
Contractor was quick to point out that adequate security would be provided to all shipping, but this raises more questions. What use is a project that requires ever increasing expenditures just to keep it operational? After all, the Coast Guard is a badly stretched force whose duties have increased manifold since its origin. In case the project becomes operational, the government will have little option but to devote more resources on security for the project.
The political situation in Sri Lanka, where the LTTE is on the defensive after the recent end of the ceasefire, adds to Indian security concerns. In the past, the LTTE has gone in for spectacular operations when it found itself on the back foot. In this context, the security of the project is a serious concern.
So far, India’s southern periphery has been free of security headaches. This might not be so after the Sethusamudram project is completed. While not in the league of security concerns over northern borders, it certainly will open a theatre both for security forces and actors hostile to India.
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