The Maritime Research Centre (MRC) Pune, in collaboration with multiple local partners including the Assam Science, Technology and Environment Council, the State Innovation and Transformation Aayog, North East Science Movement (NESM) and M/S NirDhwani Technology Pvt Ltd, organized a one day seminar titled “UDA framework for SAGAR for the River Ecosystem in the North East”, on 21 Feb 2019, for executives from the stakeholders and also students and faculty from the Academia. A report on the seminar provides understanding of the methodology required to harness the Brahmaputra and Barak Rivers in developing our North Eastern region.
Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) a Safe, Secure and Sustainable Growth for all in India’s North East
The rivers, Brahmaputra and Barak have played a critical role in shaping the culture, heritage and economy of the North East. There is potential for more, and it is essential that we build capabilities and capacities for a safe, secure and sustainable growth of the region with optimum utilization of the resources in the river.
‘Safe’ addresses the disaster management efforts originating from the river – it could mean prevention and post event rehabilitation.
‘Secure’ represents the security concerns that may originate from the river or even endanger assets in the river. The volatile security situation in the region does demand fresh initiatives that are able to comprehensively address the security concerns.
‘Sustainable growth’ pertains to economic growth with minimal degradation to the river flora and fauna.
The river ecosystem particularly in the tropical regions represent significant bio-diversity with rich source of food and other resources. The sustainable growth model will require substantial efforts in ensuring minimal degradation of the river ecosystem. The river species including the river dolphins use sound or acoustic signals for multiple biologically critical functions like communication, navigation, foraging, breeding, etc. The river waters are muddy, so the visibility gets limited and these species have evolved their acoustic vision to perceive the environment around them. Thus, the acoustic habitat plays a critical role in their wellbeing and population abundance. It may be important to remind ourselves that sound is the only signal that propagates efficiently in water.
The human activities like inland water transport, fishing, oil and gas exploration and many more do have an impact on the river environment. These activities are accompanied by sound emission in the water that interferes with the perception of the environment by these river species. We term this as acoustic habitat degradation. The growing human (anthropogenic) activities are causing severe acoustic habitat degradation in the river ecosystem. Conservation efforts do need to recognize the aspect of acoustic habitat degradation and qualitatively and quantitatively assess the impact on the river system.
The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) is a concept that addresses the aspect of our ability to monitor all the developments in the underwater region and possibly prevent events. The UDA represents following stakeholders:
- The security apparatus responsible for providing a secure atmosphere that can minimise subversive activities both by external and internal elements. The river can be possibly used for such nefarious activities.
- The disaster management authorities responsible for ensuring safe surroundings. Preventing a disaster may not be possible always, but with better awareness the loss of life and property can be minimised. Effective disaster management is possible with enhanced UDA.
- The economic activities driven by the river, like inland water transport, fishing, underwater resource exploration and exploitation, etc., can be efficiently managed with effective UDA. The acoustic habitat degradation originating from such activities can also be better managed with enhanced UDA leading to sustainable growth.
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) attempts to comprehensively study the impact on the entire socio-economic environment for a safe, secure and sustainable growth. The concerns of the stakeholders need to be looked at from a techno-strategic framework. The science and technology aspects that can aid strategy formulation need to be discussed. The rivers in the North East deserve far more attention from multiple aspects and acoustic habitat and UDA do add another dimension to our understanding of the river ecosystem.
There is a critical requirement to address the following aspects:
- Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) perspective of a safe, secure and sustainable growth for the River Ecosystem in the North East.
- Identification of the security concerns arising from the river systems and possible mitigation strategies.
- Identification of economic opportunities to boost the socio-economic status of the local population and make them aware of the importance of the rivers.
- Capacity building and capability building directions for effective UDA to ensure safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the region.
- Qualitative and quantitative assessment of acoustic habitat degradation (broadly for Shihu – the river dolphin and other species) in the River Ecosystem due to human intervention.
UDA is a framework that addresses the aspects of Safe, Secure and Sustainable Growth in the underwater region particularly for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). UDA is very well aligned to the SAGAR vision of the PM. It encompasses the ideas of smart digital India with high end technology integration to overcome the specific challenges of the IOR. The effective UDA framework being a new initiative will require efforts in all the dimensions namely – Policy Support, Infrastructure Creation, Know how Build-up and Human Resource Development. Pooling of Resources and Synergy of Efforts are the only way forward and thus stakeholders namely national security apparatus, economic entities, environmental regulators and disaster management authorities along with the science and technology providers have to come together to evolve a nuanced strategic vision.
Stakeholders are often accused of fragmented approach with minimal coordination. There is significant requirement to bring together the stakeholders and enable them to complement their strengths and weakness and avoid binaries like “Security Vs Development”, “Development Vs Environment” and many more.
The seminar was a multi-disciplinary, multi-organizational and multi-functional interactive opportunity, to expose the participants to multiple aspects of the river and attempted to evolve a strategic framework. Over 150 participants took part in the event ranging from students, faculties, academicians, practitioners, veterans, defence and security officials.
The event commenced with the inaugural session where Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das Director MRC gave a detailed introduction to the UDA framework as conceived by him and the state authorities, strategists and the experts acknowledging the relevance and the urgency of the UDA framework. There were two main sessions to deal with the sustainable growth perspective and the security concerns.
Lt Gen Manoj Pande, GOC IV Corps met the delegates in the evening and took a brief on the deliberations. It was collectively acknowledged that UDA for SAGAR is extremely relevant to draw out a nuanced strategic way forward for the North East and in particular Assam. The participants also went on record about that significant effort will be required to generate awareness among the policy makers, practitioners, researchers, academicians and others.
Cdr Arnab Das (Retd)