As a first line of defence against attempts to infiltrate seaborne terrorists into mainland India, seafaring fishermen in the country will soon be issued tamper-proof and machine-readable biometric identity cards.
The Kerala unit of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) will implement the scheme as a pilot project at Munambam in Kochi in September.
Initially, 800 local fishermen will be included in the scheme. Subsequently, an estimated three lakh fishermen in Kerala will be covered.
The government will place card readers (linked to a centralised server through Internet) at harbours and authorised fish landing centres for port authorities to record details of boats and biometrically verify their declared crew before issuing them passes to venture out to sea.
‘Carrot’ of insurance
The process will be repeated when the fishermen make landfall after their voyage. To ensure compliance, the government will extend insurance for sea accidents only to vessel owners, captains, and crew who follow the procedure.
The NIC has created a national database of three lakh registered fishing vessels in the country, of which an estimated 25,000 operate from Kerala.
Smart cards will replace the registration certificate books of these vessels this year.
Soon, law enforcers patrolling the seas will be able to know the details of a vessel at the wave of a handheld reader or by sending the boat’s registration number as an SMS to a centralised server installed at the maximum security National Data Centre, New Delhi.
They can verify whether boat has been fined or impounded in the past, its port of origin, the details of its owner and crew, the amount of fuel and the nature of the fishing gear onboard, date of commencement of voyage and stated destination, and the identification number of its communication equipment, including that of the satellite-linked emergency distress radio beacon and search and rescue transponder.
Location of boats
Maritime security agencies, police and port officials can soon monitor the real-time location of fishing vessels on a digitised map of the country’s seaboard.
They can pre-empt Indian fishermen from straying into foreign waters (by sending them flash messages on mobile or wireless), coordinate sea rescue missions better, and ensure that vessels return to harbours with their crew intact and no outsiders or contraband on board.
The system can generate status reports to prove the genuineness of Indian fishermen if they are detained by foreign authorities. This would ensure their speedy release.
Duplication of engine numbers and bogus registration certificates are widely used to steal subsidised fuel for fishing boats.
The new system will eliminate these malpractices and help target subsidy more accurately.
It will be linked to the National Automatic Identification System for Fishing Vessels used by the Directorate of Lighthouses and Lightships and the country’s Oceanic Information Services.
NIC’s State Informatics Officer K. S. Santha Raman, Technical Director M. Kasthuri, National Coordinator Sajjad Akhtar and Principal Systems Analyst E. K. Unnikrishnan are heading the project.