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India’s Blue Economy

Water covers around 71 per cent of the Earth's surface, and the oceans hold 96.5 per cent of all the water on the planet. With exactly 7517 kilometers long coastal line, India has a unique maritime position. India’s blue economy comprises of the entire resources system in the ocean, economic infrastructure in marine, maritime and onshore coastal zones within country’s legal jurisdiction. The country has 12 major ports and 187 non-major ports, handling about 1400 million tons of cargo every year, as 95 per cent of India’s trade by volume transits by sea. The coastal economy supports over 4 million fisher folk and coastal communities. The ocean-based Blue Economy (BE) is the next sunrise sector for development experts in India. Marine based economic development is also expected to reduce environmental risks and mitigate ecological challenges. As a result, efficient utilization of resources will enable us to achieve balanced socioeconomic development.

Given the pretext, India’s vast marine interests occupies a crucial potential position in India’s economic growth. The Government of India’s vision of New India highlighted blue economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth. The blue economy was stated as the vision's sixth dimension, emphasising the necessity for a cohesive policy that integrates many sectors in order to improve the lives of coastal communities while also accelerating development and employment. According to the draft policy framework, India's approach to maximising the blue economy's socioeconomic potential should include a framework for: proper measurement of blue economy activities and their contribution to national income, ensuring the welfare, safety, and livelihood of fishermen in coastal areas, innovation to ensure zero waste, low carbon technologies, and securing balanced international engagement. India has been showing interest in strengthening all the three pillars of the BE, namely, security, sustainability and economic prosperity.

Table: Population dependent on fisheries for livelihood among coastal states in India (according to Blue Economy Working Group Report, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister 2020)

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Note: Figures in brackets show the shares in percentage 

The oceans offer a wide range of sectoral opportunities like fisheries and aquaculture, ports and shipping, marine and coastal tourism, marine biotechnology, IT driven marine innovation, deep seabed mining to name a few. Fishing has been the primary tool for survival and ensuring food safety for a lot of countries. Global fish production is estimated to have reached about 179 million tonnes in 2018 whereas 156 million tonnes is consumed by households. There has been a rise of 122 per cent in total fish consumption between 1990 to 2018. In per capita terms, food fish consumption rose from 9.0 kilograms (live weight equivalent) in 1961 to 20.3 kilograms in 2017.  India is expected to register a CAGR in fisheries of 24.6 per cent over 2016-2030 period, which is quite favorable compared to other major producers such as China (18 per cent), Indonesia (32 per cent) and Vietnam (26 per cent). India's aquaculture is expected to grow at a phenomenal 44 per cent. 

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Data source: https://dof.gov.in/sites/default/files/2021-02/Final_Book.pdf 

During 2019-20, major and non-major ports in India handled a total cargo throughout of around 1320 million tones. The traffic grew by 2.98 per cent over the corresponding period of the previous year.  The pandemic’s impact on maritime supply chain observed a moderate decline in the Indian sub-continent. The Indian government has an integrated maritime development programme called Sagarmala, launched in 2015, which is central to the government’s maritime vision. The main objective of the Sagarmala project is to encourage port-led direct and indirect growth, as well as to build infrastructure to carry goods to and from ports in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner. The marine leisure and recreation industry is one of the thrust areas of the draft policy. It is a multi-specialty (water sports, recreational fishing, island visits, yacht and cruise) industry and has enormous potential for investment and job opportunities. The global yacht charter market was $ 8.1 Bn in 2016 and is estimated to expand at 7.2 per cent CAGR by 2025. It is projected to generate $ 15 Bn by 2025. The yacht and marina market in India is yet to start working towards its true potential. 

A change in the trend for production of renewable energy: ocean and offshore wind energy, ocean thermal energy conservation and tidal energy have the potential to generate 12,455 Megawatt (MW). Tidal energy is still in the research and development phase and has not been implemented on a commercial scale in India. The earlier efforts for harnessing tidal power were not successful due to high capital cost ranging from INR 30 crores to INR 60 crore per MW. India has also been one of the early movers to establish the marine biotechnology facilities in the country in the 1970s. The Department of Biotechnology is financing and promoting biotechnology research and there has been visible success in the pharmaceutical sector. The biotechnology market in India is estimated at close to $ 11 Bn and expanding fast. So far, this field has been monopolized by the advanced countries but with India’s proven capability and experience, we are positive to see a surge in investments.  

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. 

This has been co-authored by Ishita Sirsikar and Vishakha Bhagwat.