Throughout its history, India has upheld a deep-rooted maritime identity. The Indian Ocean uniquely bears the name of a specific country among all oceans. The Indian subcontinent extends approximately 2000 km into the sea, with its coastline stretching over 11,000 km and encompassing around 1,300 islands. These islands are primarily concentrated in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago to the Southeast and Lakshadweep in the Southwest.
The pivotal role of the seas in India’s economic framework is evident, as approximately 95 per cent of the nation’s trade traverses these waters, intricately binding the economy to maritime security. Moreover, over 80 per cent of India’s offshore oil production and imports are essential to meet domestic needs, underscoring the imperative nature of maritime security.
A Renewed Emphasis on Maritime Domain
During the era of British colonial rule, India’s significance as a maritime force waned considerably. However, the post-independence era witnessed a gradual revival of this maritime focus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration stands out for recognising the profound significance of the seas and acknowledging the inseparable connection between maritime security and overall national prosperity. Several instances underscore India’s leadership expounding on the nation’s vision for maritime security and advancement:
- SAGAR: It is a vision of Security and Growth for all in the Region. Announced in 2015, it acknowledged the linkage between maritime security and growth and highlighted its multinational character.
- Delivering the Keynote Address at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018, the Indian Prime Minister defined India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific as “free, open and inclusive, which embraces all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity”.
- This was followed, in August 2021, with Prime Minister Modi Chairing a UN Security Council Open Debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation”.
- In February 2022, the government set up the National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) to create an interface between the civilian and military maritime domains to enhance India’s security architecture and energy security.
Increasing Maritime Interests of India
There are numerous initiatives of the Government of India (GoI) that aim to exploit the seas for the nation’s growth. These are:
- Maritime India Vision 2030
The Maritime India Vision (MIV)-2030 stands as a blueprint for the synchronised and expedited advancement of India’s maritime domain, propelling the nation to a preeminent position on the global maritime stage. Encompassing 150 initiatives spanning ten key themes that comprehensively address every aspect of the Indian maritime sphere, MIV-2030 anticipates an overarching investment ranging from Rs. 3 to 35 lakh crores across port infrastructure, shipping endeavours, and inland waterways development. This strategic endeavour is projected to generate approximately 2 million jobs directly and indirectly within India’s maritime sector. Furthermore, the aspiration is for India to ascend as a prominent seafaring nation, boasting world-class excellence in education, research, and training in maritime fields.
Introduced by the Government of India’s Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways (MoPSW) in 2015, the Sagarmala initiative has a primary objective of expediting economic progress through the reduction of logistical expenses for both domestic and Export-Import (EXIM) cargo, achieved by strategic investments in necessary infrastructure. As of now, the Sagarmala program encompasses a total of 802 projects, valuing Rs. 5.4 lakh crore. Among these, 228 projects, amounting to Rs. 1.22 lakh crore, have been successfully concluded, while 252 projects with a total investment of Rs. 2.21 lakh crore are currently in the process of implementation. The remaining projects are at various stages of development.
- Among the goals, there is the aim to establish 26 fishing harbour initiatives valued at Rs. 3,700 Crore, encompassing the enhancement and modernisation of 5 fishing harbours located near prominent ports such as Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Mallet Bunder. These endeavours are poised to significantly influence the livelihoods of numerous families belonging to the Indian fishing community.
- Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana: Initiated in 2020, the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) is geared towards triggering a Blue Revolution by fostering the sustainable and conscientious growth of the fisheries industry. The plan involves a comprehensive estimated investment of Rs. 20,050 crore spanning five years commencing from the fiscal year 2020-21. PMMSY’s core objectives encompass ensuring the well-being of fishers and fish farmers through social, physical, and economic security, generating employment opportunities, doubling income, augmenting contributions to the Gross Value Added (GVA) of agriculture, and boosting exports. These goals are to be achieved by responsibly unlocking the fisheries sector’s potential in a sustainable, inclusive, and impartial manner.
- Sagar Mitra Scheme of PMMSY: As part of PMMSY, an initiative to promote the establishment of Fish Farmers Producer Organizations (FFPOs), the involvement of local youth as ‘Sagar Mitras’ is being pursued in the 3347 coastal fishing villages. Sagar Mitras fulfil the role of being Points of Contact (PoCs), effectively bridging the gap between the government and the fishing community. They are responsible for sharing essential information with fishermen, including details about daily fish catches, fishing vessels, fish prices, and marketing insights. Additionally, they play a crucial role in compiling data and information related to various aspects of fishing, such as fish production and relevant market trends. Moreover, Sagar Mitras disseminate vital updates concerning weather forecasts, Potential Fishing Zones (PFZs), and potential natural disasters to ensure the fishing community is well-informed.
- Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF): The government set up the FIDF during 2018-19 with a fund size of Rs. 7522.48 Cr to achieve a sustainable growth of 8-9 per cent. FIDF provides a concessional finance support facility.
- Safety of Fishermen: In the pursuit of bolstering the security of fishermen during their maritime endeavours, there are currently two ongoing initiatives. The first involves the installation of ‘Two-Way Communication Transponders‘ by the Department of Fisheries on boats measuring less than 20 meters in length. This technology will empower fishing vessels at sea to receive critical updates such as Cyclone Warnings and Probable Fishing Zones. Additionally, fishermen will have the capability to transmit messages, indicating any issues they encounter, to boat owners, agents, and their families. By transmitting positional data through the transponders, these measures collectively address both the well-being of fishermen and the broader concerns of maritime security.
- Blue Economy: The Government of India’s vision of New India, issued in 2019, highlighted Blue Economy as one of the ten core dimensions contributing to India’s growth. The coherent Blue Economy policy integrating initiatives of concerned sectors is augmenting India’s growth with significant value addition in trade, shipping, aquaculture and fisheries, coastal manufacturing and services, deep sea mining, and marine technologies.
- Deep Ocean Mission: In support of the government’s endeavours in the Blue Economy and deep-sea mining, the Ministry of Earth Sciences is actively executing the ‘Deep Ocean Mission.’ This initiative, spanning five years from 2021 to 2026, entails an estimated investment of Rs 4077 crores. The Deep Ocean Mission encompasses six primary components:
- Advancing Technologies for deep-sea mining and developing a Manned Submersible capable of reaching depths of 6000 meters.
- Provision of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services.
- Technological Innovations to Explore and Preserve Deep-Sea Biodiversity.
- Conducting Comprehensive Deep Ocean Surveys and Exploration.
- Harnessing Energy and Fresh Water Resources from the Oceans.
- Establishment of an Advanced Station for Ocean Biology and the promotion of public awareness in the realm of Earth System Sciences.
- Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy: To enhance domestic oil and gas production by intensifying exploration activity and investment, the Government of India 2016 launched the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP). It is bound to increase our maritime security interests at sea by enhancing the areas under offshore development.
As the process of implementation progresses, these policies enhance the nation’s maritime interests and boost the nation’s growth while improving the conditions in which our fisherfolk live.
Maritime Security Coordination
Various ministries and departments, both at the central level and within coastal States and Union Territories, are intrinsic participants in the national maritime sector. India is home to 12 prominent ports alongside over 200 non-major ports. The country boasts an excess of 300,000 fishing boats and a considerable fleet of merchant ships flying the Indian flag. Moreover, distinct offshore zones have been designated for the exploration of oil and natural gas resources.
The key entities involved in maritime security include the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard, the Marine Police, Customs, the Narcotics Control Bureau, the DRI, CISF, and a significant array of private security firms. Enhancing coordination among these diverse organizations is imperative to safeguard our coastline. This collaborative effort aims to ensure the uninterrupted flow of trade and commerce along the coast and the waters beyond, shielding them from potential threats and disruptions.
In pursuit of establishing a vital secure atmosphere, as previously mentioned, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) established the position of National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) on November 10, 2021. Operating under the purview of the NMSC, the Maritime Security Division is a diverse entity comprising experts from key stakeholders within the maritime realm. It includes representatives from the Navy, Coast Guard, Police, Shipping sector, Fisheries, Earth Sciences, and Maritime Law, ensuring a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach.
Under the guidance of the National Maritime Security Coordinator, a Multi-Agency Maritime Security Group (Policy) has been established, which convenes meets every three months. The inaugural session took place on June 30, 2022, where the National Security Advisor (NSA) delivered the opening statement. This recurring quarterly assembly brings together an assembly of maritime stakeholders both at the central level and the State Maritime Security Coordinators hailing from all coastal States and Union Territories. This platform aims to identify security vulnerabilities across various maritime aspects, encompassing coastal areas, ports, and offshore assets, among others.
A significant advantage resulting from the government’s step to establish the position of National Maritime Security Coordinator is the notable improvement in coordination between the central and state levels in various dimensions of Maritime Security. It includes bolstered cooperation concerning Coastal, Ports, Offshore, and Islands Security. Following the endorsement from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), an Inspector General (IG)-level officer has been designated as the State Maritime Security Coordinator (SMSC) in each coastal state and Union Territory. The SMSC’s role is to facilitate enhanced collaboration among all maritime stakeholders within the respective state or Union Territory and foster harmonised communication with the National Maritime Security Coordinator situated at the central level.
India is rapidly advancing on various fronts within the maritime sector. While the SAGAR initiative furnishes a visionary approach and extends its influence to countries beyond India’s shores, a series of actions are being undertaken to enhance security across this permeable domain. Concurrently, efforts are underway to upgrade port facilities and establish fresh harbours, with the aim of optimising resource utilisation—both in fishing and other sectors—along the extensive Indian coastline.
(Note: For a detailed account, tune into our sister digital platform stranewsglobal.com’s “Simply Nitin” show “How India’s Looking After Its Maritime Security Domain”.)