Sometimes we tend to forget just how plentiful our peninsular positioning can be.
With a 7500km long coastline, India is home to 9 coastal states and 1382 islands. Not to mention India’s Exclusive Economic Zones of over 2 million sq. km; that is rich in living and non-living resources with significant recoverable resources of precious crude oil and natural gas. The country’s coastal economy also sustains over 4 million fisherfolk and maritime communities.
Thus, it is safe to say that India has all the makings of a major maritime power, and should be leading the discourse surrounding the ‘Blue Economy’.
What is the Blue Economy?
Over the last few years, concepts such as “blue economy”, “blue capital” and “blue growth” have begun to emerge and become entrenched in policy discussions around the future of our oceans. The term ‘Blue Economy’ can be understood as the amalgamation of a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of our oceanic resources is sustainable. It is essentially a subset of the national economy, comprising an entire system of ocean resources of livelihoods; while also ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas.
The concept of the Blue Economy was given a boost when the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals included it in Goal 14; ‘to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and maritime resources for sustainable development'. This provides a guiding principle of global governance and the use of oceanic resources.
Unfortunately, India has thus far overlooked the potential of the hidden treasures in our oceans and failed to put these abundant resources to good use.
Well, the good news is that things finally appear to be looking up.
The Indian Government is formulating a policy that aims to outline a strategy to tap into our rich oceanic resources. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken about the government’s commitment to promote the ‘blue economy’ and push India to reach its true potential of becoming a major maritime power.
“To me, the Blue Chakra or wheel in India’s national flag represents the potential of the Blue Revolution or the Ocean Economy. That is how central the ocean economy is to us.”- said Prime Minister Modi.
Draft Blue Economy Policy: Highlights
Today, the blue economy contributes about 4% to India’s GDP. The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) prepared the draft blue economy policy framework in line with the Indian government’s ‘Vision of New India by 2030’ and has highlighted the blue economy as one of the 10 core dimensions for national growth.
The draft framework identified 7 priority areas:
- National Accounting Framework for Blue Economy and Ocean Governance
- Coastal Marine Spatial Planning and Tourism
- Marine Fisheries, Aquaculture and Fish Processing
- Manufacturing, Emerging Industries, Trade, Technology, Services and Skill Development
- Logistics, Infrastructure and Shipping (including transshipments)
- Coastal and Deep-Sea Mining and Offshore Energy Priority
- Security, Strategic Dimensions and International Engagement
One of the fundamental factors hindering the growth of the blue economy is the lack of uniform, reliable and accurate data. For government agencies and other stakeholders to develop effective policies, the implementation of a comprehensive national accounting framework is indeed a good first order of business. This will be done by collecting data of all the subsectors that make up the blue economy in India.
The policy also aims to identify all the stakeholders involved. This includes fisherfolk, ocean tourism, shipping companies and other related business entities. Unfortunately, the interests of these different sections often clash with one another.
Ushering a New Economic Frontier
The ocean as a new economic frontier calls for new discussions around the politics of the sea. Protests have been intensifying against the draft Blue Economy policy. It has managed to stir controversy with political parties and experts in the fisheries sector in the State of Kerala. The crux of the argument is that increasing foreign direct investments (FDI) in the fisheries sector would be favourable to capital intensive enterprises and the opening up of deep-sea fishing to multi-national corporations would reduce the fishermen to mere workers.
The draft blue economy framework appears to be a step in the right direction. With such vast maritime interests, the blue economy certainly occupies a vital position in propelling India’s economic growth. It holds the potential to be a force multiplier of GDP, so long as it’s executed sustainably, with socio-economic welfare as a guiding force.
In my opinion, any policy that has a larger ramification on the livelihoods of the most vulnerable sections of society in a country like India must be tread with caution. Finding a middle path, one that accounts for the security of the local fishermen, while also allowing business entities to flourish and provide new employment opportunities would go a long way.