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Uninhabited Islands of Lakshadweep – A Major Security Threat

Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS, (Rtd) PhD (Narcotics)
Fri, 11 Jun 2021   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

India’s smallest Union Territory, Lakshadweep, is an archipelago consisting of 36 islands, and is comprised of ten inhabited islands and 17 uninhabited islands, attached islets, four newly formed islets, and five submerged reefs. It lies 400 kilometres off India’s West Coast.

Lakshadweep Police is under direct control of the Department of Home Affairs, Government of Lakshadweep. The Lakshadweep Police is headed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP). Administrator of the Lakshadweep is the ex-officio Inspector General of Police of Lakshadweep Police. The Police has a sanctioned strength of 349 personnel for 9 Police Stations, 2 Police Out Posts and 1 Police Aid Post. Superintendent of Police is the head of the force.

For maintenance of law and order in addition to Police force, Central Government has raised a company of India Reserve Battalion exclusively for Lakshadweep, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. 355 personnel of IRB are stationed in various islands of Lakshadweep. Lakshadweep Marine Police and Lakshadweep Home Guards have also been raised in the recent years to further strengthen the machinery. Naval Detachment & Coast Guard Units are also in place.

While this set-up looks adequate on paper, recent developments of seizure of big quantity of drugs and guns, brought from Sri Lanka, indicate serious chinks in the armour.  The 17 uninhabited islands represent a grave security threat, not only to the Lakshadweep archipelago, but also to the Indian mainland. These uninhabited islands are secure places for hiding illicit cargo.

Another matter of concern is that Sri Lanka is home to a number of Rohingya refugees. Clashes are frequently occurring between the Rohingyas and the local Buddhist population. Many Buddhist leaders are using hard-line rhetoric against the Rohingyas. In March 2018, Sri Lanka declared a 10-day nationwide emergency to handle communal riots. Buddhist nationalism is on the rise in Sri Lanka, as is evidenced by the growing popularity of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force).

An estranged group can attempt to flee the island with the help of traffickers involved in drug trafficking and arms trafficking. The Sri Lankan traffickers would be certainly aware of the uninhabited islands in the Lakshadweep archipelago, which could be utilised as a dumping ground for those attempting to flee from Sri Lanka. The distance between Colombo to Lakshadweep is about 864 kilometres, which is equal to 537 miles and 466 nautical miles. A refugee exodus or even a trickle will be a humanitarian crisis. Similar situation is going on in Europe.

The European migrant crisis also known as the refugee crisis, is about refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq crossing the Mediterranean Sea in boats and swarming into Italy and Greece. This has led to a total collapse of border controls. Many traffickers out to make a fast buck indulge in migrant smuggling. Greece tried to seal its borders but without success, Italy created a proxy force to intercept the unwelcome migrants and force them back to where they came from.  Italy is even contemplating a naval blockade. Migrants from Tunisia head the list of 2020 arrivals into Europe. Many also take the dangerous risk of crossing the Channel to enter into UK.

.What lessons does the European refugee crisis holds for India? Any internal disturbance in Sri Lanka between Buddhists and Rohingyas, can start a flow of refugees into Lakshadweep, and occupying the uninhabited islands would be their first priority. Like in Italy, India may also not get much success by attempting any naval blockade. Orchestrated international pressure as well as hyper-aggressive posturing by opposition political parties and Rights Groups can put the government in a tight spot.

What do we do to prevent any internal crisis in Sri Lanka starting a refugee crisis or a planned crisis to occupy the uninhabited islands? The Rohingyas are unwanted in Sri Lanka as also despised, hence their exit would be a great relief for them. If these Rohingyas are ferried into the uninhabited islands, it will be a grave security threat to our nation. A move is already initiated in Kerala, demanding a separate Malabar State, comprising the districts of North Kerala – Kasaragod, Kannur, Wayanad, and Malappuram. Calicut city is being mentioned as the Capital for this proposed State. It goes without saying that the Lakshadweep archipelago, will also be in this architecture. Agitators are already threatening a Telangana type agitation. Islanders have already successfully blocked a move to unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. Where is the finance for all these types of agitations? To answer this, we will have to go back to Lakshadweep.

Across the world, separatist movements are financed by narco-trafficking, and arms smuggling for armed struggle, if such an eventuality arises. The narcotics and drugs combination seized by the Coast Guard is a typical example of narco-terrorism. Both, drugs and guns are not meant for any altruistic purpose, the ultimate aim is to disrupt peaceful living, disrupt law and order, create chaos and thereby cause overthrow of legally elected governments.

Is this the start of an asymmetric warfare from the South-West side of India? The massive agitations that India is witnessing of late, focussed on the Capital, New Delhi, on a variety of issues, baffles many, as to the source of funding, for such protracted proceedings. The manpower that is amassed, lavish food arrangements, non-stop media coverage, all require splurging of liquid cash, which can be generated only by sale proceeds of narcotics. Enforcement agencies throughout the world are unanimous in their opinion that sale proceeds of narcotics, constitutes the chief element in anti-national movements. The Coast Guard interception of this contraband bonanza, has come as an early warning bell to the nation.

Islands being used as narcotics hubs are not new. There are multibillion-dollar operations involving Cocaine and Methamphetamine, being packed into the hulls of sailing boats in the US and Latin America and transported to Australia via South Pacific Islands.  Island countries like Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and New Caledonia are discovering that their beaches are being used as storage grounds for billions of dollars’ worth illicit drugs. Huge caches of drugs are also stored in underwater nets, attached to GPS beacons. Further, fishermen are being lured into gun-running and drug-trafficking.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report-Volume 1, released in March 2021, by the United States Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has this to say about the situation in South East Asia on page 15 “Methamphetamine production, trafficking, and use, set new record levels in many regions, especially in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa and North America. New psychoactive substances (NPS) expanded to new markets, the most lethal forms of which were synthetic opioids that enabled criminals to avoid international controls.”

It says about India on page 166, “Indian drug investigations frequently include efforts to determine if narcotics trafficking is funding terrorist activity. India is committed to addressing its drug-related challenges but faces resource and capacity limitations relative to its population of 1.3 billion. A lack of information technology, including integrated networks and case management software, presents additional challenges for Indian government agencies in the enforcement of their drug laws.”

The Times of India, Chennai edition, in a report “Islands in Palk Straits Emerge as Transit Points for Smuggling” dated June 6th 2020, states “There are 21 islands along the Indo-Sri Lankan maritime border……. These islands are emerging as transit points and hideouts for smugglers……. While one kg of Ganja costs 15,000 INR in India, it is sold at 60,000 INR in Sri Lanka. The boatman who smuggles the contraband is paid 30,000 INR per trip……. What has got exposed is only the tip of the iceberg. All central agencies like RAW, IB, NCB, Coast Guard and Indian Navy and State agencies like NIB and Q Branch and the Sri Lankan Narcotics Task Force are pursuing the leads.”

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Report 2020, released on 25th March 2021 states “India, Maldives and Sri Lanka have reported an increase in the number of seizures. The amount of heroin seized increased because drug traffickers used the southern route leading from Afghanistan through the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan and then by sea or air either directly to Europe or through South Asia, Africa and/or the Gulf States. The seizures were made on boats as part of maritime joint operations by law enforcement agencies of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Law enforcement authorities in India seized more than 3,212 kg of heroin in 2019, mostly in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, along the southern route”.

What should India do in the light of the latest seizure in Lakshadweep?

Investigation apart, this writer is of the considered opinion that it is time for India to set up a Tri-Services Command in the Lakshadweep islands, as is in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Also, in view of the Chinese take-over of the Hambantota Port, this step will have to be taken in the near future, all the better if it is done immediately. For the immediate present, a multi-agency Joint Intelligence Command of all the enforcement agencies can be set up, under the IG of Police, to beef up intelligence gathering and monitoring. The uninhabited islands and the beaches need to be surveyed to detect hidden contraband.

Author

Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS, (Rtd) PhD (Narcotics) is Former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India, Fellow, James Martin Center For Non Proliferation Studies, USA. Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA , Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A., AOTS Scholar, Japan.


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POST COMMENTS (7)

P.S. uedonym

Jun 14, 2021
Excellent Article. Although Mr Menon solely focussed on idea of Narcotics trafficking as a means to funding Orchestrated Protests, I think the possibility of funds coming in from our belligerent nations and nefarious western based NGO can't be denied. Would have liked if the Article also shed some light on the new Draft Regulations for Lakswadeep over which the opposition is as usual creating a great furore.

Girish KV

Jun 13, 2021
Of course, Lakshdweep is a very important location especially so when Chinese PLA is spreading it's wings all over the world with special mention to Srilankan Port, a close location. Though certain restrictions imposed by new administrator is against people's wishes, the reporting of drug trafficking, if repeated, will becime security threat both internally a d externally. The presence of a strong Indian Navy is the need of the hour. The Author seems to be having a very deep knowledge about the geographical as well as strategic importance of the Sweep!

ASHOK IYER

Jun 12, 2021
It’s imperative that a strong military base is set up on these islands & regardless of international treaties & conventions, the sea around all these uninhabited islands should be heavily mined. This will send a strong message to all drug smugglers and/or Rohingya refugees that any endeavour to exploit Indian territory will be met with the harshest of response. The Rohingyas are just another virus which, in the near future, will be detrimental to Indian & international interests. It’s best that we treat them like we treat terrorists emanating from Pakistan. It’ll be quite difficult to stop the funding of various unwarranted protests that keep cropping up in our country. The basic aim of these protests are to destabilize the government & the country as a whole. The Indian government should stop trying to placate such agitators. Instead, it would be advisable to target the, well funded, leaders of such agitations & also the equally well funded Pseudo-secularists whose only aim is to hand an advantage to our enemies by destabilizing the country. Legal prosecution of such agitation leaders & pseudo-secularists is a waste of time & money. The government should resort to extrajudicial practices to quell such anti-nationals so that a strong message is sent to all aspiring anti-nationals that they will pay a very heavy price if they act against India’s national interests.

Indrakant Jha

Jun 12, 2021
Why blame Rohingyas? It's only a part of islamisation of the entire world. Till now world lives in a fools paradise and thinks them as human beings. But they looks as man externally but in real terms their minds are full of beastly properties. As also our so called intelligentsia, politicians, writers, filmmakers, historians and journalists are their supporters. Unless some big things happen, they will not rise from their deep slumbers.

mukesh.naik

Jun 11, 2021
Sir, Very detailed information and let Lakshadweep be the launch pad for our " Look West Policy" and South to certain extent.

Mohan Kumar Naranthatta

Jun 11, 2021
As usual Dr Sreekumar Menon enlightens us on the international conspiracy that would have influenced the present crisis in the islands. Even the mailand India may face threats once the refugees throng the islands for reasons whatsoever. Great insight given by Dr Menon. Thanks

palaksh

Jun 11, 2021
Beautifully penned down sir. Involvement of Rogingya make this a more concerned threat. Myanmar already doesn't recognize Rogingya and has history of inflicting adversaries over it and with the military government in power they might end up funding the Buddhist extremist of sri Lanka and the persecution might start in parts of sri Lanka too and this persecuted minority might turn up into another radical organization if they got their hands into drugs and they will act as a hot spot for other separatists organization to promote insurgency on southern India. Theatre command is now becoming a necessity to protect our borders

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