The Historic and Modern Lighthouses in India amd The Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships, Govt. Of India

By Maushumi Chakravarty
Director (M&C), Press Information Bureau, New Delhi, India

New Delhi, Dec 8, 2010 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB-India) India has a long coastline of 7517 kilometre and 95 % of trade by volume is moved by sea. The Directorate General of Lighthouses plays an important role in guiding the vessels and facilitating this most important economic activity.

In the present day context, navigation is a common term. When the concept of trade developed and people started venturing into sea in search of new land, the importance of navigation for homing became very essential. Lighthouses in the very primitive form, a mound during day time and burning of firewood during night time, would have met this vital need.

The first known lighthouse to mankind was built by Ptolemy II in the third century BC sometime between 280 and 247 BC on the island of Pharos at Alexandria, Egypt. With a height variously estimated between 393 and 450 ft (120 and 140 metres), it was among the tallest manmade structures on Earth for many centuries and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

As far as India is concerned, the first reference of a Lighthouse is found in the Tamil Epic, Silppadhikaram written in 2nd Century AD where it is mentioned that a beautiful lighthouse was built near Kaveripattinam so that ships could easily locate the then port of Poompuhar. Fully recognizing the historical importance of such location and also catering to the need of local populace and shipping in general, a new lighthouse at Poompuhar has been dedicated to the nation in the month of October 2010.

The system of management of lighthouse services in British India included Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh and also various Princely States. Later, the imperial government decided to administer about 32 Lighthouses in the six lighthouse districts of Aden, Karachi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Rangoon. After the Lighthouse Act, 1927 came into force, the administration of lighthouses in Aden District was transferred to Her Majesty’s Government in the U.K. but the Government of India continued to administer the lighthouses in Persian Gulf financed from the Persian Gulf Lighting Services Fund.

At the time of Independence, administration of only 17 general lighthouses was vested with the Government of India. Administration of another 50 lighthouses was taken over from the princely maritime states. In order to cope with developmental activities, the Lighthouse Department was constituted as a separate Department under the Ministry of Transport. It was renamed in the year 2002 as Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships under the Ministry of Surface Transport.

Presently the Directorate has 179 lighthouses, 23 differential global positioning system, 64 Radar Beacons and 23 deep sea buoys.

Most of the Lighthouses are provided with Differential Global Positioning System to give accurate bearings to the modern vessels which are equipped with DGPS receivers. The Directorate DGPS Chain of 23 stations, seamlessly covers the Indian waters and provides better than 5 metres positional accuracy up to 100 Nautical Miles from the coast.

The Directorate envisages improvement of the existing visual aids, radio aids and establishment of new lighthouses along the coastline in a uniform manner. The ultimate objective of the Directorate shall be to provide a lighthouse at an interval of 30 Nautical Miles all along the coastline and islands by the year 2017 so that a seamless visual and radio coverage of the entire Indian coastline is available. The work done by DGLL includes installation of modern aids like DGPS, Radar Beacon, Automatic Identification System, and Vessel Traffic Services which considerably improve the overall position fixing capabilities of the mariners.

The Directorate is in the process of establishing an off shore lighthouse (Lushington Shoal) about 20 Nautical Miles from Okha which will facilitate in reducing the voyage of Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs) coming from the Gulf by about 30 Nautical Miles.

Mariners place a high importance on Radar Beacons (known as Racons) as an integral part of the Aids to Navigation mix particularly at night, in reduced visibility and adverse weather conditions. The Directorate has an inventory of 64 Racons spread over the entire coastline including the Bombay High Offshore Platform.

Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) is a functional framework of harmonized measures and services to enhance the safety, security and efficiency of shipping and the protection of the marine environment in all navigable waters. For this purpose, a number of sensors like Radars, Automatic Identification System (AIS), Direction Finders, Mateo, and Hydrological sensors are integrated to develop an overall scenario of the subject waters and vessels for display from where an appropriate advice can be given to the master of the vessel. The Directorate establishes the VTS in common waterways from where the requirement of a number of ports is met. The Directorate is presently implementing the Vessel Traffic Service for the Gulf of Kachchh which is in the final stages of completion. The partial trial run of the system has started from Kandla Master Control Centre.

Lighthouses are evenly spread along the Indian Coastline and have therefore been identified for establishing our country’s surveillance network. After the terrorist attack of 26th November, 2008, the process of establishing a surveillance network has gained momentum which has expedited the establishment of an AIS Network which will be able to track vessels up to 25 Nautical Miles from our coast. Lighthouses are also being used for establishment of Radar Network. Combined together, this will form the most formidable coastal surveillance network which will help in easily identifying unfriendly vessels. The work for first phase is presently in progress.

The DGLL is establishing a Navtex Chain which will facilitate in broadcasting weather and safety related information which will be of vital importance to mariners especially during natural disturbances. The efforts of DGLL in complying with this requirement of international Maritime Organization (IMO) must be lauded.

The DGLL was also among the first to utilize non-conventional energy sources in 1980 when a solar panel of Central Electronics Ltd was used at Dwarka Lighthouse for powering the Radar Beacon. Today DGLL has installed solar energy in all small and island lighthouses. Recently DGLL has taken up utilization of wind as well as solar energy known as Hybrid Power in major applications.

It is worth mentioning here that the Directorate functions as a self-sustaining organization. Its income is being derived from light dues levied on ships entering and leaving Indian ports. The light dues are levied on the basis of Net Registered Tonnage (NRT) of the vessels. After meeting the revenue expenditure of the Directorate out of the total receipts, the balance is transferred to General Reserve Fund. Capital Expenditure on the plan schemes of the Directorate is met out of its own resources to the extent the amount is available in the GRF and the uncovered balance is met out of general revenues of the Government as a loan to be repaid later.

Due to the nature of navigation lighthouses are established at odd locations where basic living amenities are at its primitive state whereby staff suffer a lot of hardship. The devastating Tsunami of 2004 took a heavy toll of lighthouse staff at Nagapatnam, Cuddalore (Pandian Tivu) and Indira Point (A&N Islands). At Indira Point alone 17 precious lives were lost and entire establishment except the lighthouse were swallowed by Tsunami waves. Though technological advances enable us to monitor and coordinate the activities at lighthouses from a remote location, we cannot leave the lighthouses unmanned keeping in view the need to protect valuable assets in the form of modern equipment installed. DGLL has taken several measures for reducing stress level of staff posted at remote locations so that they are not separated from their families for longer periods and is in the process of implementing many more.