The Blue Economy is envisaged as the integration of Water-based Economy included Inland Water Body & Ocean Economy development with the principles of social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and innovative, dynamic business models”.
The development of the Blue Economy holds immense promise for the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Indian Ocean is the world’s preeminent seaway for trade and commerce. It is also endowed with a wealth of natural resources, which are, yet, largely untapped. The development of the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean region is expected to yield several benefits for India.
THE BLUE ECONOMY: INDIA’S AGENDA
India’s maritime assets and interests play a vital role in India’s growth story. Its maritime assets span across a 7,517 km long coastline interspersed with 1,398 islands, 9 coastal States, 4 Union Territories, and 77 districts which is home to 18% of India’s population. Several critical infrastructures such as nuclear plants, refineries, megacities, and vital security installations dot its coastline. Its EEZ, which presently encompasses 2.2 million sq. km is slated to grow to 3.1 million sq. km. Its inland waterways have a route length of 14,000 km. Its 50 lacs fishermen toil to produce 50 million tonnes of marine production. Its EEZ holds 46% and 61% of balance recoverable reserves of crude oil and natural gas respectively. Its coastline has 13 major ports and more than 200 minor ports handling about 1,200 million tonnes of cargo and more than 120,000 ships and crafts annually carrying 66% of the world’s oil, 50% of global container traffic, and 33% of the world’s cargo traffic ply in the surrounding seas.
India has invested in various geographies for resources and infrastructure projects. India also has territorial rights in Antarctica with research station Maitrii set up in 1989 and Bharati in 2012. It regularly runs scientific missions to these outposts. India is an Observer in the Arctic Council. India has the second-largest diaspora in the world with about 30 million spread across most countries in the world. Notably, 94% of NRIs and 99.7% of PIOs reside in coastal nation-states and territories adding to the nation’s maritime links and interests.
The very nature of the maritime sector makes all countries with access to the seas a veritable neighbor to every other country. Developing workable partnerships and environmentally sound socio-economic models of development that leverage technology and knowledge, provides access to ocean resources, promotes free trade and commerce, and aims towards achieving a fair, universal, and rules-based maritime system, with India’s maritime neighbors is vital to achieving sustainable and equitable growth and development of India.
With its northern borders protected by the Himalayan mountains, India’s maritime borders are also it’s sole opening to the world of trade and commerce. India is also prone to cyclonic storms and other marine disasters and is subject to terrorism, piracy, drugs, arms and human smuggling, illegal fishing, dumping of toxic and nuclear wastes, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing by foreign vessels, and confronts a delicate security situation in the region.
The Indian Ocean has emerged as the global economic highway. It is the third-largest water body spanning an area of 68.5 million sq. Kms, which is rich in oil and mineral resources, and countries on the rim of the ocean are home to nearly one-third of humanity. India has sizeable diplomatic interests in the Indo-Pacific and has international obligations under the UNCLOS, Search and Rescue, seabed mining, counter-piracy, etc in the region. Economic threats and opportunities are on the horizon with the increasing belligerence of some countries and their forays into the Indian Ocean. How best India negotiates these challenges and opportunities will depend upon developing a sound maritime understanding of the stakes involved. India has vast maritime interests, which have a vital relationship with the nation’s economic growth.
In this milieu, India’s maritime interests can be broadly divided into four categories. First, is to ensure uninterrupted access to commodities and markets; Second, unchallenged sovereign rights to its EEZ and freedom of navigation and overflight in the global oceanic commons; Third, ensure continued uncontested peace and stability in the region; and Fourth, security for the unimpeded socio-economic sustainable progress of the nation and the prosperity of its people.
However, these assets and interests come at a cost – to the environment, ecology, and the economy. The maritime sector directly impinges upon several of the Sustainable Development Goals notably Poverty, Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Sustainable Cities (especially coastal cities), Climate Action, and Life below water. The route sustainable development is clearly the Blue Economy Model of economic growth.
In recent years, under the leadership of Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, there have been series of much-needed initiatives and intense activity in the maritime domain, such as the SAGARMALA and SAGAR programs of the Government. These coupled with foreign policy initiatives such as the transition from ‘Look East’ to the ‘Act East policy, the reorganization and revitalization of the BIMSTEC, the recent creation of a QUAD for regional stability, the transfer of a submarine to Myanmar, and signing significant maritime operational agreements with Japan and the United States. These initiatives will act as catalysts to strengthen India’s geopolitical credentials. When coupled with the sustainable development goals and the adoption of a Blue Economy led economic developmental model India’s transition to being a credible and responsible maritime power is imminent.
Whilst the external elements are gradually falling into place India needs to get the internal aspects of the Blue Economy Growth Model also in place for the safe, secure, and sustainable development of the island, coastal and offshore economy with its upstream impact on hinterland assets.
Modern Ports with stringent environmental restrictions are the foremost requirements. We need to increase our port handling capacity to at least 3,500 Million tonnes to support a US$ 5 trillion economy. This also requires the first and last-mile connectivity to be in place. The Sagarmala project, which is a port-led development initiative based on pillars of port modernization, connectivity, port-led industrialization, and coastal community development is progressing rapidly and already calls are being made to extend the project to the littoral neighborhood.
INLAND WATER & SHIPBUILDING IN INDIA
India’s 14,500 km of navigable inland waterways are being rapidly developed. The first containerized cargo has already transited on the India-Bangladesh Protocol. Cargo ships are routinely ferrying between Farakka and Haldia and these are significant developments.
Shipbuilding and shipping is another sector that is a key pillar of the Blue Economy. India’s record has considerable scope for improvement. The modal share of coastal shipping has the potential to improve to 33% by 2035 from about 6% today. Similarly, EXIM cargo valued at the US $ 56 billion in freight costs being paid to foreign shipping countries should be transferred to Indian shipping companies plying Indian-built ships. India’s 27 shipyards must be reenergized and if required recapitalized to commence production of ships. A national development bank for shipping and shipbuilding is a vital necessity to ensure low-cost fiancé to shipyards and shipping companies. Long-term contracts of Affreightment to make these ship purchases viable are required between user departments and shipping companies. It is time to announce a sunset date for cabotage so that old and polluting foreign ships do not ply Indian cargo anymore.
The warship building industry in India is firmly anchored on self-reliance and indigenization and has matured rapidly to make a variety of ships. This strength must be leveraged to export Indian warships and crafts to friendly countries.
The fishing industry is another sector that provides significant opportunities for growth. India has approximately 250,000 fishing boats, with 4 million active fishermen and 14 million people as part of the fishing community. India is the second-largest fish-producing nation and suitable technology must be adopted for its sustainable growth. Deep-sea fishing is another avenue where India could cooperate to harness the Blue Economy. This would also result in coastal community development and enhanced employment opportunities in the fishing sector. The Government has announced the National Fishery Policy in October 2020 for public consultations.
Our islands are not only the strategic outposts of our country but also offer immense economic potential and can be a source of livelihood for thousands of our citizens. The Integrated Island Management Plan (IIMP) is a vital instrument for the development of our islands. It is also important that the infrastructure and facilities developed in these islands are dual-use, safe, secure, and sustainable. The Navy has a large reservoir of experience, expertise, resources, and capabilities that can be gainfully leveraged for the sustainable development of the islands.
India’s EEZ also provides offshore energy resources, and we have oil and gas exploration areas off the West and East coast of India. India has also been allocated deep seabed mining areas in the Central Indian Ocean and these sectors are likely to register significant growth in the coming years.
Renewable ocean energy is another niche sector with immense scope in the future. This includes tidal and waves energy and ocean thermal energy conversion.
Therefore, while India is focused on the economic development of its maritime interests it is also committed to traveling down the path of sustainable development. The SDG 14 is directly relevant to sustainable oceans, whilst many other SDGs of livelihoods, poverty, food, etc. are also related to the maritime sector. These have to be factored into India’s growth story.
Whilst the economic activities are being developed rapidly it is also important to ensure that security, stability, safety, and sovereignty issues are not overlooked. The seas are no longer a benign medium and globalization has led to the vulnerability of the oceans. The threats and challenges in the maritime domain are as wide and varied as they come and include, piracy, maritime terrorism, arms trafficking, drugs smuggling, human trafficking, and poaching. The instabilities and turbulence on land in some parts of the Indian Ocean have the potential to spill over into the maritime domain and the situation can best be described as ‘FRAGILE’. It is the responsibility of the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard to ensure that this situation remains stable and secure. Another challenge is that the waters of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are prone to natural disasters. The Navy and the Coast Guard have to be ready for rapid response to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Given the recent geopolitical realities, the Indian Ocean has assumed a new salience for global peace. There exist several mechanisms for the maintenance of peace and stability and promote cooperation between like-minded nations who believe in the rule of law. The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) is a forum for discussion and cooperation between navies of the region. Over the years the IONS has grown with a membership of navies from 22countries and four observers’ nations. The IONS has the potential to provide an effective template to promote cooperation in the maritime domain in the Indian Ocean Region to further the Blue Economy development model.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is another organization that provides the avenue for strengthening maritime cooperation between countries of the Indian Ocean Region. Incidentally, 20 members of IORA also have their navies as members of IONS, and recent years have witnessed some synergy between IONS and IORA for promoting maritime cooperation. The promotion of a Blue Economy is a vital charter of the IORA Member states.
ROLE ON UNDERWATER DEVELOPMENT FOR NATIONAL GROWTH
Optimum and efficient utilization of water resources is at the core of the blue economy. The rising importance of the Blue Economy in global activities represents a great opportunity for innovation, be it in coastal management, navigation assistance, or biodiversity protection. The Blue Economy represents an opportunity to boost the local economy and create jobs in knowledge-intensive economic sectors. The creation of new services is really needed in order to better tackle the challenges faced by coastal regions and inland water bodies to achieve their unleash business opportunities and boost the local economy. Both local and regional authorities should therefore not hesitate in investing even more into the adoption of innovative technologies. It is indispensable to promote and enhance collaboration between the various actors of the value chain to develop strong and vibrant local economies.
The ocean is the last frontier for economic development in the world. The assumption of blue economy revenue of India will be 1 trillion US$ every financial year for the next ten years. With their enormous resources, oceans are the ultimate frontier that shall help to transform the economy of the society from scarcity to abundance. With the extended Exclusive Economic Zone, India’s Ocean jurisdiction equals the land area. Hence an integrated approach with a long-term vision, technology, management, monitoring, and time-bound regulatory reforms are essential for building a sustained blue economy for India. It is beyond doubt that the upcoming blue economy shall serve as a growth catalyst for the robust Indian economy envisioned to reach US$10 trillion by 2030.
In conclusion, India has a significant potential to harness the full potential of the Blue Economy in the national interest. The government has taken major steps and launched several initiatives in this direction. The Honourable Prime Minister has launched a dynamic initiative of Swachh Bharat (Clean India). We need to extend the concept to Swachh Sagar (Clean Oceans). This could be a people’s movement where we draw up an action plan and motivate every citizen and maritime agency to contribute towards cleaning our coastal areas and extend the concept to ensuring clean oceans or ‘Swachh Sagar’ for our future generations.
However, maritime issues are complex and require substantial resolution of jurisdiction and deconflicting so that the Blue Economy Model of development is efficiently, economically, and effectively implemented.
For this apex level directions for integration of resources, coordination of effort, and harmonization with global treaty obligations is essential. Since multiple Ministries, Departments and Authorities are direct stakeholders of the Indian maritime ecosystem, an apex level authority to oversee its implementation is required. Such an apex level organization, given the complexity of maritime matters and the character of the Blue Economy and multifarious stakeholders with multiple interests at both Centre and State level, should be chaired by the Prime Minister of India with appropriate representation of the Ministries of Central Government and the Governments of the Coastal States and Union Territories. A suitable Secretariat, under a Chief Maritime Commissioner and staffed with domain experts, should be created to coordinate, and integrate the planning process of various departments and agencies for sustainable development of India’s Blue Economy Model of growth so as to enable India to emerge as a resurgent maritime nation.
The rising importance of the Blue Economy in global activities represents a great opportunity for innovation, be it in coastal management, navigation assistance, or biodiversity protection. All water bodies, including lakes, rivers, canals, dams and brackish water bodies, seas, and the coastal regions are unique resources, yet neglected and often forgotten. The Blue Economy represents an opportunity to boost the local economy and create jobs in knowledge-intensive economic sectors. The creation of new services is really needed in order to better tackle the challenges faced by coastal regions and inland water bodies to achieve their unleash business opportunities and boost the local economy. The uninhabited islands will be leased out by the central government to the state government exclusively for smart city development and other economic activities, based on the investments of secured governance strategy. The smart cities on Island will help the Indian Economy to provide long-term funding and more employment opportunities in the future. The inland water bodies are expected to gain more from the blue economy orientation in their development policies. Set up Mini HUBs in every 5 km of inland waterways. It will act as a self–sustained economic growth center and provide huge employment opportunities for the local community. Mini HUB such as amusement park, Yoga center, Mini food court, Cinema halls, children’s water park, etc. besides, it includes Small scale economic activities like food processing industry, boat & fishnet repairing center, mini market, shopping malls, etc. Both local and regional authorities should therefore not hesitate in investing even more into the adoption of innovative technologies. It is indispensable to promote and enhance collaboration between the various actors of the value chain to develop strong and vibrant local economies.
Admiral R K Dhowan(Retd.),
PVSM, AVSM, YSM Former Chief of Naval Staff,
Dr. P. Sekhar,
Chairman, Unleashing India, Global Smart City Panel & Micro Tech Global Foundation