Blue Economy as a concept envisages promoting economic growth, social inclusion and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. This is very significant for India because of its own geography: India’s 9 out of 29 states and 1382 islands total a coastline of 7500 kms., that host about 200 ports and cover an area of about 2 million sq. kms. of ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’; which is precariously under the threat of inundation due to climate change.
Despite India’s large maritime presence and strategic position in the Indian Ocean, the potential for economic activity has not been adequately exploited yet. With India becoming the favoured partner for the world’s value chains, India’s shores are poised to see increase in traffic. India has also been contemplating developing Andaman and Nicobar Islands as exotic tourist attractions on the line of what Maldives and Mauritius have achieved, for example.
With the development of new ports, and the rapidly changing market linkages globally, the ports in India face the crisis of determining strategies for future growth. The 141 year old Port of Chennai, for example, is contemplating dedicating a part of it for cargo, while the port authorities in Karnataka are planning to extend leisure and entertainment facilities and to develop their ports as tourist attractions for the visitors who come for business. The Gati Shakti program of the government of India is also set to further the land-sea linkages that will increase efficiency for the domestic transportation as well as aid for transportation of goods from the manufacturing source to ports for exports.
Since 2014, India through IORA (Indian Ocean RIM Association) has partnered across the Indian Ocean region in several capacity building programmes covering a wide range of areas. Similarly, programmes like: The Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) are largely contributing to advance ocean cooperation and the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean.
India has recently concluded partnership agreements for joint exploration of oil and natural gas and other ocean based resources with many countries near the African continent. Talks to develop ports and other infrastructure in Mozambique, where many Indian companies are engaged in large scale exploration of mineral resources are also underway. Similarly, partnerships to improve trade with South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand that are committed to sustainable development and environmentally friendly practices are also progressing. Both countries are also part of a trilateral highway project with Thailand, which will connect northeast India with major deep sea ports around Thailand. India’s various free trade agreements with Australia, Europe, etc. are also poised to catapult maritime trade volumes in the coming years.
The increase in human activity, trade and commerce and the construction of large-scale infrastructure around these areas, pose a significant threat to the sustainability of these zones. India’s upcoming Blue Economy policy proposes to regulate these activities and pave way for our commitments under the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals.
The challenges of an increase in economic activity on such a large scale is the management of it. The implementation of the policy and monitoring of all the traffic, business activity, financial transactions, and eliminating the illegal and environmentally harmful aspect to is going to take main priority. It is thus, that the maritime sector is also developing and adopting technology for its wide range of uses.
The maritime sector is also moving towards what is being called as the Industry 4.0, where cyber-physical systems with diverse set of technologies like cloud computing, Internet of Things, sophisticated sensors, AI, machine learning, data analytics and advanced robotics would integrate to facilitate seamless automation in operations. Similarly, advancements in energy efficiency, safety and environmentally focused technologies are set to transform the maritime sector and poise if for greater growth and development. For example, indigenously developed technology at IIT Madras, ‘Mike’- a remotely operable vehicle with underwater imaging capabilities has recently proved its worthiness when it detected an underwater leak in an oil-pipeline.
The development of large scale infrastructure and related technologies that appear to completely transform the operational landscape of the maritime sector, requires concerted efforts from the government as well as the private sector. The government is paving the policy roadmap and opening up the industry to attract investments across the board. To facilitate this at a greater pace, the government is inviting the private sector for cooperation, investments and partnerships through promoting PPP projects, keeping in view their economic viability. There also is a strong demand for our coastal areas to transform into zones of tourism, which would see the participation of a wide range of other small and medium businesses. This is expected to lead to comprehensive and inclusive growth of all the stakeholders in the areas.