As the world’s seventh-largest country by land area, it’s no surprise that India has a vast and diverse maritime territory. From the bustling port cities along the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal to the idyllic beaches of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the country’s blue economy plays a vital role in its economic growth and development.
The government has also launched a number of initiatives to support the growth of the blue economy, including the SAGAR Mala Project, which aims to modernise India’s port infrastructure and improve connectivity to coastal areas, and the Blue Economy Program, which focuses on promoting sustainable economic development in coastal areas.
There are a number of challenges related to the blue economy in India including climate change, marine pollution and overexploitation of marine resources. Therefore, there is a need to scrutinise the potential of the Blue economy to play a significant role in India’s economic development and contribute to the country’s long-term prosperity.
What is the Blue Economy?
- Blue economy refers to the sustainable use of marine resourcesfor exploration, economic growth, improved livelihoods, and transport while preserving the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.
- In India, the blue economy encompasses a wide range of sectors, including shipping, tourism, fisheries, and offshore oil and gas exploration.
- 80% of world trade happens using the seas, 40% of the world’s population live near coastal areas, and more than 3 billion people access the oceans for their livelihood.
- The blue economy is a vast socio-economic opportunity for coastal nations like India to utilise ocean resources for societal benefit responsibly.
What is the Significance of the Blue Economy?
- Transport:With an over 7,500-km-long coastline spread across nine coastal states, 12 major, and 200 minor ports ports that handle approximately 1,400 million tons of cargo each year. Besides, India’s Exclusive Economic Zone of over 2 million square kilometres has a bounty of living and non-living resources with significant recoverable resources such as crude oil and natural gas. Also, the coastal economy sustains over 4 million fisher folk and coastal communities and its geography includes 1,382 islands. India’s blue economy supports 95% of the country’s business through transportation and contributes an estimated 4% to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- Expansion of Shipping Industry: India is looking to expand its presence in the shipping industryand increase its capacity as a hub for ship repair and maintenance, which can come with various economic and geopolitical benefits.
- Offshore Energy Production:There are also opportunities to develop offshore wind and solar energy in India, which could help to meet the country’s growing energy needs.
- Aquaculture and Marine Biotechnology:The blue economy can support the growth of these sectors, which have the potential to contribute to the country’s food security and improve the health of the ocean ecosystem.
- Synergy With SDG:It supports all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG14 ‘life below water’.
Challenges Related to India’s Blue Economy
- Lack of Infrastructure:There is a lack of ports, airports, and other infrastructure in many coastal areas of India, which can make it difficult to develop and expand economic activities in these regions.
- Overfishing: Overfishingis a major challenge in India’s coastal waters, as it can lead to the depletion of fish stocks and harm the marine ecosystem. This can have negative impacts on the fishing industry and other sectors of the blue economy.
- Marine Pollution:Pollution from sources such as oil spills, plastic waste, and industrial effluent can harm marine ecosystems and have negative impacts on the blue economy.
- Climate Change: Rising sea levels, negative Indian Ocean dipoleand other impacts of climate change can pose risks to coastal communities and also have negative impacts on the blue economy.
- India-Sri Lanka Fishing Conflict:The boundary between Indian and Sri Lankan waters in the Palk Bay is not clearly defined, which has led to confusion and conflict between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen. To address this issue, both India and Sri Lanka have attempted to negotiate agreements to regulate fishing in the Palk Bay and establish clear boundaries. However, these efforts have not always been successful in resolving the issue.
- Sustainable Resource Management:Implementing sustainable resource management practices, such as setting catch limits, establishing marine protected areas, and enforcing regulations to prevent overfishing and other forms of resource extraction, can help to ensure the long-term viability of marine resources and the industries that rely on them.
- Investment in Infrastructure:Investing in infrastructure such as ports, airports, and other facilities in coastal areas can help to support the growth and expansion of economic activities in these regions.
- Research and Development:Investing in research and development to improve technologies and practices in the blue economy can help to increase efficiency and reduce the negative impacts on the environment. India must focus on marine ICTs, and transport (shipping) and communication services, and the creation of a knowledge hub for marine research and development.
- Partnerships and Collaboration:Working with other countries, international organisations, and other stakeholders to exchange knowledge and expertise, and to collaborate on projects and initiatives, can help to support the growth and development of the blue economy.Also, India should not look at its oceans as just water bodies, but as a global stage for continued economic, social, and cultural dialogue.
Securing India’s Blue Economy: Role of the Indian Navy
- With India aiming to emerge as a $5 trillion economy, the only way to achieve this is to move outwards as the oceans provide a vast resource pool that can be tapped to spur India’s economic growth. The Blue Economy contributes about 4 per cent of India’s GDP; there is tremendous potential to expand its contribution.
- The Indian Navy remains focused on contributing its might to support the Blue Economy efforts of the Government of India. In this endeavour, the Navy aims to be, both, an enabler and an element of national and regional Blue Economy efforts.
- The Navy has the resources, assets and domain expertise for mapping, characterising, monitoring as well as enforcing good order at sea. The Navy aims to create an enabling ecosystem that supports the Blue Economy.
- The Indian Navy is a key stakeholder in realising this vision and its strength lies in ensuring safety, security and good order at sea. This is critical to enable commerce and for trade to thrive in a stable and sustainable manner. The Navy’s efforts aim to contribute to the core objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 to preserve, protect and conserve ocean spaces and resources.
- The oceans have an annual gross value of $ 2.5 trillion that makes it the 8th largest global economy and ocean-based trade is likely to quadruple by 2050. “Two-thirds of the food production will be farmed from the seas, and clean offshore wind energy will be the leading power generation technology in the next few years.
- The Navy is also supporting organizations such as Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in their regional efforts towards developing a common vision in developing the blue economy. The 23-member grouping has emphasised the development of the Blue Economy through a common vision for balanced economic development in the Indian Ocean Rim. The Navy supports this initiative through participation in various working groups, preparation of HADR SOPs, as also information-sharing on critical issues through an MoU between the Navy and IORA Members.
- A Blue Economy needs a stable and secure environment to sustain and grow and this is enabled through effective maritime security. With growing maritime interests, the growth of our Navy is inevitable. The blue economy and maritime security are deeply intertwined and mutually dependent on each other. India will be successful in moving ahead in a cohesive and coordinated manner with a clear-eyed focus on the greater good at the national regional and global level.
- Blue Economy opportunities for India spans the entire spectrum from energy to ecology, fishing to tourism. For instance, of a potential fish resource of 5.3 million metric tons in India’s Maritime Zone, only about 70 per cent is fished. 90 per cent of this catch comes from fishing up to 50m contour, highlighting opportunities for deep-sea fishing. India’s offshore wind energy generation potential is more than 300 GW, 1/10th of which is currently planned to be tapped. Large Marine Ecosystems in the Bay of Bengal comprise 8 per cent of the world’s Coral Reefs and 12 per cent of Mangroves, opening opportunities for Coral Reef tourism, apart from ecological conservation.
- With 80 per cent of the world’s population residing within 200 km of the coast and the global population requiring 30 per cent more water, 40 per cent more energy and 50 per cent more food by 2030, a turn to the seas is inevitable and having a strong Navy assures India’s growth in all aspects and the Indian Navy is playing its part to ensure a safe, secure and stable maritime environment.
Bright Prospects Ahead
- The Blue Economy in India is poised for significant growth in the next few years. Its Blue Economy Mission undertaken by the government can lead to the sector becoming the next economic multiplier, depending on the execution of the policies that have been decided. For e.g., the policies mentioned in the draft policy. The sector is the sixth dimension of the government’s ‘Vision of New India by 2030’; with the Blue Economy policies aiming for long-term economic advantages in order to achieve the greater goals of growth, job creation, equity, and environmental protection.
- Like the oceans, investment and growth in India’s blue economy is limitless. With the right plan and proper initiatives by the government and private stakeholders, this conglomerate of sub-sectors has the potential to grow exponentially thereby giving an edge to India in trade, tourism, security and inclusive development.
The Blue Economy holds out a promise and hope as a new frontier and engine of global growth.
Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)
Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) is India’s policy or doctrine of maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. It is an increasing recognition of the increasing importance of maritime security, maritime commons and cooperation.
Through SAGAR, India seeks to deepen economic and security cooperation with its maritime neighbours and assist in building their maritime security capabilities. For this, India would cooperate on the exchange of information, coastal surveillance, building of infrastructure and strengthening their capabilities.
Further, India seeks to safeguard its national interests and ensure Indian Ocean region to become inclusive, collaborative and respect international law.
Vision of SAGAR
The vision for the Indian Ocean Region is rooted in advancing cooperation in India’s region and to use our capabilities for the benefit of all in our common maritime home. Based on this vision of the SAGAR initiative can be defined under the following terms:
- Security:Enhancement of coastal security so that land and maritime territories can be safeguarded with relative ease.
- Capacity Building:Deepening economic and security cooperation for smooth facilitation of economic trade and maritime security.
- Collective Action:Promoting collective action to deal with natural disasters and maritime threats like piracy, terrorism and emergent non-state actors.
- Sustainable Development:Working towards sustainable regional development through enhanced collaboration
- Maritime Engagement: Engaging with countries beyond our shores with the aim of building greater trust and promoting respect for maritime rules, norms and peaceful resolution of disputes.
Why is SAGAR mission required?
The Security and Growth for all in the Region initiative is required for the following reasons:
- Leveraging Blue Economy: India can leverage on the Blue economy through this initiative. A Blue economy presents an opportunity to meet its national socio-economic challenges. In addition connectivity with its neighbours can be enhanced. India with an unprecedented opportunity to meet its national socio-economic objectives (livelihood generation, achieving energy security, building ecological resilience etc.) as well as strengthening connectivity with neighbors.Oceans also provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihood, as well as transportation for 80% of global trade.
- Tackling Regional Issues: There is a need to strengthen efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in wake of natural disasters and counter non-state actors engaged in piracy and terrorism. Further, India seeks an integrated approach and cooperative future, which will result in sustainable development for all in the region. An integrated approach and cooperative future will become possible through the implementation of the SAGAR initiative.
- Checking Chinese Influence: China through its maritime silk route (part of BRI initiative) has been increasing its influence in Indian ocean region (IOR). Moreover, Chinese investments in India’s neighboring countries are of dual nature i.e commercial with military underpinnings. The string of pearls has caused strategic concerns for India. In this context, SAGAR vision assumes much importance in countering such issues.
Strength and Weaknesses of SAGAR vision
- Strengths:India’s greatest strength in the SAGAR initiative is its central location in the Indian Ocean providing unrestricted access to the Indian Ocean Region. Along with this, it has immense capabilities which it can share with its maritime neighbours – strong and capable maritime security forces, shipyards capable of constructing aircraft carriers and submarines, vast industrial complexes, financial institutions, space assets to name a few
- It was long understood by the political leadership that India’s best defences lie in strengthening its maritime domain. There India has focused on issues that are of priority to the smaller nations – security of natural resources, sustainable development, protection from natural disasters, and controlling the ill-effects of marine pollution and climate change.
- Weaknesses: The weakness of the SAGAR initiative is due to its capacity and execution. Although India has the capability to offer the maritime assets it has limited capacity to execute it. The limitation of capacity, coupled with a lack of international coordination, will fail in living up to the expectations of its maritime neighbours.
- It can also be argued that India has still not adequately harnessed its capability in military diplomacy since it is careful in committing more assets and manpower, and due to its internal governance mechanisms. The capacity of the private sector has not been guided along with the SAGAR initiative.
Significance of SAGAR Vision
- SAGAR provides a mechanism for India to expand strategic partnerships with other IOR littorals in Asia and Africa.
- SAGAR indicates the leadership role and responsibilities India is ready to play in the region on a long-term basis in a transparent manner through its capacity building and capability enhancement programs.
- The key relevance of SAGAR emerges when seen in conjunction with India’s other policies impacting the maritime domain like Act East Policy, Project Sagarmala, Project Mausam, India as ‘net security provider’, focus on Blue Economy etc.This symbolises India’s maritime resurgence, as maritime issues are now centre of India’s foreign policy.
- With effective implementation of all these policies, India can act as an enabler to create a positive environment in the IOR.
- SAGAR addresses a significant policy gap, brings maritime issues to the core of Indian foreign policy, and emphasizes the vital connection between the blue economy, maritime security, and maritime cooperation. SAGAR gives India a way to deepen its strategic alliances with other IOR littorals in Asia and Africa.
- To establish a maritime order based on rules in the Indian Ocean region, it must be institutionalized and vigorously promoted.
- India’s democratic, inclusive, and collaborative leadership can contribute to the region’s security and sustainable progress for all.
- As maritime concerns are now at the forefront of India’s foreign policy, this represents the country’s maritime renaissance. India must also take the lead in the region’s effort to ensure sustainability and growth for everybody.
Through its capacity-building and capability upgrading programs, SAGAR demonstrates the long-term, transparent leadership position and responsibilities that India is prepared to assume in the area.