Blue Economy

Blue Economy

By: Staff Reporter
Economic activities in the Indian Ocean Region show enormous potential for growth. However, these are likely to come with major environmental costs that are currently not under consideration.
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As outlined by the World Bank, a blue economy would rest upon the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, ocean ecosystem, health, improved livelihood and jobs. Opposed to conventional notions of ocean economic policy, the term ‘blue economy’ covers numerous maritime activities such as exploitation of living and non-living marine resources (deep sea fishing, development of aquaculture, off shore fossil fuels etc.), generation of renewable energy (wind and tidal), societal needs such as mitigation of climate change, disaster management and desalination for coastal and island habitats and more. The blue economy aims to use locally available resources and renewable inputs to achieve its developmental goals. There is an enormous potential in the currently untapped resources in different marine zones of the world, upon the utilisation of which the future growth of economies around the world is dependent (Mohanty et al, 2015).

The Indian Ocean Region

The Indian Ocean region (IOR), spread over an area of 70 million sq km and bordering three continents, is abundant in resources—fish and sea food; energy—fossil as well as renewable; and, minerals. It also provides unmatched economic opportunities for the development of marine tourism and trade through shipping activities (Maini and Budhraja, 2017). The IOR is replete with both living and non living resources that can provide a significant boost to India’s economic growth. Further, India’s location along key international trade routes in the Indian Ocean and a coastline of over 7,000 km provides numerous opportunities in trade, maritime security and diplomacy.

Being a signatory country to the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), India has sovereign rights over an area extending to 200 nautical miles (the exclusive economic zone-EEZ) from its baseline (line that divides territorial waters and inland waters) for exploring and exploiting its natural resources, including the mineral and non living resources of the seabed. The flagship project for enabling the blue economy, the Sagarmala project launched in 2015 by the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India seeks to leverage the country’s coastline and inland waterways to drive industrial development. Comprising over 150 initiatives, with INR 4 lakh crore invested the Sagarmala is spread across four broad areas—modernisation of port infrastructure by addition of six new ports, improvement of port connectivity through rail corridors, freight friendly expressways and inland waterways, creation of fourteen coastal economic zones (CEZs) covering all the Maritime States and Union Territories with manufacturing clusters to enable port-led industrialisation and developing skills of fishermen and other coastal and island communities. However, the Sagarmala does not cover areas such as sea bed mining and renewable energy through off shore wind energy generation.

Fisheries in the IOR

Currently, India’s annual fish production is over 10 million tonnes (MT) (Directorate of Economics and Statistics, 2017), of which marine capture—harvesting of naturally occurring living resources in marine environment, shows a greater production potential. In 2013-14, the production from the marine capture sector stood at a dismal 3.44 MT, against a projected capacity of 4.41 MT (Sinha et al, 2017). Further, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in its 2016 report ‘The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture’ stated that fish production had alarmingly dropped in the Southwest and Southeast Pacific, the Mediterranean and Black Seas and in Northwest and Western Central Atlantic. In the Indian Ocean region, on the other hand, production had increased from the 2003-12 average of 10.5 MT to 12.1 MT in 2013 and further to 12.7 MT in 2014.

Deep sea fisheries, defined by the FAO as those that take place at depths from 200 to 2,000 m and in waters beyond the EEZ, can significantly contribute in boosting the fish production of the Indian economy. Currently, Indian marine fish harvest revolves around the coastal waters, up to a depth of 100 m and 90 per cent of the catch is from a depth of 50 m. This has increased stress on the stock in near shore waters and over exploitation of species has consequently occurred. Further stress on the coastal areas alone could be detrimental to sustainable yields (Sinha et al, 2017).

Considering the potential the Indian Ocean has shown through its increasing fish harvest, India will need to develop adequate infrastructure and technology to provide for exploration and fishing beyond its territorial waters. The Sagarmala provides for this. Currently lack of skills and poor vessel conditions put Indian fishermen at a disadvantage and hinder them from venturing beyond the territorial waters. Under Sagarmala, the government has developed plans to create modern and sophisticated fishing vessels for harnessing resources in India’s EEZ (Sood and Bhaskar, 2017). Further, for the development of the fishing community, the Ministry of Shipping is funding select fishing harbour projects under Sagarmala in convergence with the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairy, and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture. A sum of INR 13 crore has been sanctioned for the modernisation of the fishing harbour at Sassoon Dock in Mumbai, which operates around 1,000 fishing vessels and lands an average of 48,000 tonnes of fish annually under the management of Mumbai Port Trust (Sagarmala, 2016). The project is currently under implementation. The nine existing fishing harbours in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are also to be updated, for which INR 50 crore has been allotted (ibid). These are separate from the six major ports that are being developed under the project. So far, only one project under this initiative has been completed—modernisation of the existing fishing harbour of Malpe in Udupi District in Karnataka (Sagarmala, 2018).

Boosting Trade Potential through the Blue Economy

At present, the sea routes in the IOR carry up to 90 per cent of India’s trade (Centre for Coastal Zone Management and Coastal Shelter Belt, 2017). Port development is an essential task that needs to be undertaken in order to meet the growing vessel and cargo traffic at major ports, that has increased from 481.87 million tonnes in 2016-17 to 499.41 million tonnes in 2017-18 (Ministry of Finance, 2018).

Under Sagarmala, 415 projects at an estimated cost of approximately INR 8 lakh crore have been identified for port modernisation and development, port connectivity enhancement, port-linked industrialisation and coastal community development. Currently India has 13 major ports, in addition to which 6 ports are to be developed. These have been identified in the Sagar Island in West Bengal, Paradip Outer Harbour in Odisha, Sirkhazi and Enayam in Tamil Nadu, Belikeri in Karnataka and Vadhavan in Maharashtra (PIB, 2017). A total of 116 initiatives were listed for development and modernisation of these ports. To date, 86 of these have been completed while seven have been dropped (Sagarmala, 2018).

Renewable Energy

While India’s current onshore wind energy generation stands at 19.6 GW, it has been estimated that by 2030, it is likely to reach 191 GW (MNRE, 2013). However, not much has been achieved in terms of offshore wind energy generation. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), in its National Offshore Wind Energy Policy has pointed out that the efforts for offshore wind energy generation are currently limited to preliminary resource assessment. The Centre for Wind Energy and Technology (C-WET), Chennai, and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad have measured shore wind data at 54 locations along the coast of India. These studies have identified potential for offshore wind energy generation in the coasts of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. The Offshore Wind Energy Policy is currently committed to exploration and promotion of offshore wind farms in the EEZ for achievement of energy security, promotion of investment in energy infrastructure, reduction in carbon emissions, among others (MNRE, 2015).

Public-private partnerships are also being encouraged under this Policy. In April 2018, tenders were floated for off shore wind projects in the Pipavav port in Gujarat. In July 2018, the National Institute of Wind Energy published a list of 35 participants that expressed interest in developing the 1,000 MW project. The list includes prominent companies engaged in wind power development, including Shell, Saipem, Northland Power and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (Offshore Wind, 2018).

Minerals and Mining

In the Indian Ocean, polymetallic nodules and polymetallic massive sulphides are the two mineral resources that are of major commercial interest. These are found at a depth of 4-5 km and contain nickel, cobalt, iron, and manganese. Exclusive rights for its exploration in the Central Indian Ocean Basin was obtained by India in 1987. Since then, over 4 million sq miles have been explored and two exploratory mine sites have been established (Maini and Budhraja, 2015).

 Environmental Concerns

While there are certainly economic benefits to be derived, environmental costs of projects in India’s blue economy initiatives are considerably high. The Sagarmala, for instance, engages in port development along coastlines, which are also socially and ecologically important. Traditional fishing communities are dependent on near shore fisheries for their livelihoods. Industrialisation along the coastline, a centrepiece of the Sagarmala, will lead to increased commercial activities through new ports and petrochemicals and are likely to affect fishing activities and increase the threat of extreme weather events (The Hindu, 2017). The threat is not limited to fishing activities alone. Serious concerns are being raised with regard to issues like coastal erosion, coastal accretion, the problems of dredging and the effects these will have on the sea bed (Sabrang, 2016).


While initiatives such as Sagarmala will add to the growth of the Indian economy, it is pertinent to consider what costs will be borne in terms of environmental degradation. The very definition of blue economy includes improvement of livelihood opportunities and sustainable development—both of which are currently not central to the multiple projects being undertaken in India. While the benefits of a vibrant blue economy is being brought to the fore, these cannot be divorced from the environmental costs of development.


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Sood J., and U. Bhaskar, 2017. Fishermen may get deep sea vessels to go to exclusive economic zone, Livemint, March 7.

Special Correspondent, 2017. Sagarmala project will hurt fishers, The Hindu, July 28.

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