Blue Economy: Unlocking The Prowess Of India's Ocean Resources

As anybody witnessing the socio-economic changes in the country would concur, India’s economy is fast churning. The government has its eyes set on achieving the target of a USD 5 trillion economy and COVID-19 disruptions aside, the ground seems to paint a hopeful picture. While multiple sectors of the economy have been discussed and deliberated upon, it is the ‘blue economy’ which is garnering limelight recently with the release of ‘India’s Blue Economy - A Draft Policy Framework’.

Blue Economy refers to the ocean, sea and coastal resources a country has at its disposal and the ways it can be sustainably harnessed to assist in economic growth. It first emerged as a concept in 1994 and has garnered considerable popularity amongst policy circles over the years, especially so, after the UN established the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 with SDG 14 being the goal to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

India has tremendous potential to be explored with its vast coastal and maritime resources. With the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea on three sides, not only does India have almost 7500 kms of coastline, 199 ports and 1382 ports but also India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has a rich biodiversity and a significant amount of non-renewable resources such as crude oil and natural gas. It is also of significant geo-strategic importance. The coastal economy also sustains millions of fishermen families. Keeping all this in mind, the government has highlighted the blue economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth in its Vision 2030 document.

In recent years, the government has come up with various initiatives focusing on development of the maritime sector. In 1981, India became one of the first countries to create a Department of Ocean Development which now comes under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). India has successfully launched various initiatives such as the “Deep Ocean Mission” in 2018 to undertake deep ocean exploration, the “Oceanography from Space” and “Launching of data buoys” along the Indian coastline. Efforts are also being taken to provide the islands with submarine optical fiber cables to ensure high-speed broadband connectivity. With the release of the draft policy framework for the blue economy, there is for the first time, a serious effort to formulate new policies and streamline existing ones to ensure sustainable and inclusive development of the marine and coastal resources.

Firstly, it is recommended by the working group to improve methodology by devising new mechanisms to collect data and explicitly identify sectors and sub-sectors of the blue economy. The conservative estimates put the share of the blue economy in the Gross Domestic Product to be around 4% but experts say that the share would be much higher if the economy if more accurate methodologies were to be used.

Secondly, it was felt that India needs to adapt the Coastal Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) approach of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) - UNESCO for achieving integration between various sectors of Blue Economy, between local communities, private players and the government at all levels. Furthermore, it is recommended to formulate a new National Map and Data Policy mapping the coastal regions and EEZ. It was also noted that unplanned tourism activities must be brought under check to reduce the stress on the coastal ecosystems. The promotion of Beach Benchmarking Systems using eco-labelling, sustainability procedures, and waste management systems. In line with this, the ‘Blue Flag certification’ is being rolled out to beaches that meet the criteria. The group also called for the development of a national marine litter policy to tackle marine pollution.

Thirdly, the policy framework deals with the vision of developing marine fisheries, aquaculture and Fish Processing. Given the rise of the fisheries sector in recent years, it is recommended to focus on expanding Blue Revolution to further promote aquaculture, algae harvesting and sustainable marine capture. Additionally, the livelihoods of fishermen will be enhanced with last-mile connectivity, better marketing infrastructure and financial inclusion. The process to set up a national level Institute for Marine Biotechnology focusing on the non-food sector would be expedited.

Fourthly, the development of ports and related infrastructure to reap the benefits of improved logistics, fisheries, ship building and coastal tourism is recommended. Research & Development and Innovation in the sector would also maximize the potential benefits and thus, Blue Trade and Blue Manufacturing is to be pursued to improve employment opportunities, maximize export potential and promote economic growth. Additionally, it was recommended that an integrated plan for developing logistics, infrastructure and shipping be launched. The Sagarmala project to improve the logistics sector by unlocking the potential of the country’s waterways and coastline is already a step in the same direction. Telecommunication and digital infrastructure in the coastal areas and islands is also being improved at present. A National Maritime Policy and a National Master Plan for a Multi Modal Network and Digital Grid are also recommended.

Fifthly, the exploration of the EEZ for renewable energy, hydrocarbons, precious minerals and metals is also envisioned through launching of a National Placer Mission that will explore workable deposits and prepare a roadmap for their extraction. It was also envisaged to launch a manned submersible vehicle going to the deepest ocean levels. A National Marine Resources Database is also proposed to be created.

(Image Source: ResearchGate)

Lastly, keeping the geostrategic importance in mind, It is recommended that international cooperation with other countries in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) be encouraged. It is also imperative that India play more of an active role in important multilateral organizations such as the Commission of the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), International Tribunal on Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and Biological Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BBNJ). India would also remain committed to work for a safe Indian Ocean under the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) in 2015 that will deepen Blue Economy partnerships with maritime neighbors. An Apex body called the National Blue Economy Council (NBEC) is proposed to be set up to streamline all the existing schemes under one oversight agency for comprehensive implementation of the policies.

The draft policy framework envisages increased contribution of the blue economy to the Gross Domestic Product through sustainable and holistic development of the marine and coastal resources. It also aims to improve the lives and livelihoods of the coastal communities, preserve marine biodiversity and maintain the security and strength of our marine resources. Thus, as the draft policy framework proposes, it is pertinent that India implements policies appropriately to reap the benefits that the Blue Economy holds. On Paper, the policy framework is ideal but it remains to be seen what the future holds and whether India can unlock the prowess of its oceans and thus, unlock the potential for economic growth and socio-economic welfare.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.


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