By Adm. R K. Dhowan, Former Chief of Naval Staff and currently Chairman, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi
Chair: Amb. Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary to the Govt. of India
Date: January 8, 2019
Time: 6:00 PM
Venue: Conference Room I, IIC, 40 Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi 110003
“We are all tied and connected to the oceans,” said Admiral R K Dhowan, former India’s Chief of Naval Staff and now president, National Maritime Foundation in his opening remarks of the lecture titled ‘Maritime Asia – Challenges and Opportunities for India’ delivered at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
Pointing out an interesting biological fact that human beings have the same percentage of salt in their blood as that in the oceans, Admiral Dhowan opined that this “truly defines the relationship of humankind with the oceans.”
He reminded the audience that India’s maritime history dates back to 3300 B.C and the country had sea-faring kingdoms in its east coast. It was the neglect of the oceans that brought down the country’s economy which till about 15th century had one of the highest GDPs in the world. Identifying colonialism as the cause for the economic downslide of the nation, he brought attention to the fact that the British period was also one of glorious warship building. “In 1753, 153 warships and 140 merchant ships were built in the Bombay Dockyard. India got left behind during industrial revolution and there was a revival only after independence,” he said.
Turning his attention to the pertinent issue of environmental pollution, he said, “There is a misconception that oceans are an unending resource source. The past years have seen unbridled marine pollution and at this rate we will soon have more plastic than fish in the ocean.”
Focusing on Indian Ocean, he said, it is the third largest water body and the countries on the rim of the Indian ocean is home to one-third of humanity. Annually, a billion tonnes of oil transit through the trade routes in the Indian Ocean. He then went on to underline the important initiatives of the NDA government to leverage the importance of the Indian Ocean.
“In recent years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there have been a series of initiatives for sustainable development SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in Region) to nurturing the blue economy, he said.
Elaborating further, he said among the notable initiatives are the Port Infrastructure Development Sector under which comes the ambitious Sagarmala project which encompasses 500 projects with an envisaged investment of USD 100 billion. He pointed out that India has 14,500 km of navigable waterways which the government is now developing as five major waterways. Once the project is completed, it will be cheaper and cleaner to transport the 94 per cent of freight that is currently moved by roads and railways in the country.
Another initiative that he focused on is the boost given to the shipbuilding industry by the government. India has over 27 shipyards at present. The government has accorded the industry special infrastructure status with 100 per cent FDI allowed in shipbuilding. Admiral Dhowan sounded a word of caution that while making marked progress, India needs to ensure that the ships of the future are propelled by environmentally sustainable fuel.
He then shifted his focus to the Comprehensive Island Development Plan prepared by the government that aims to have greenfield infrastructure projects and to promote cruise tourism. He also mentioned schemes like off shore oil and gas exploration, deep sea mining and ocean thermal energy conservation.
Turning to fisheries, he said India has a thriving fishing industry with over 200,000 fishing boats yielding 11.4 million metric tonnes of produce which makes it the third largest exporter in the world. But he opined that this is only “scratching the surface” as deep-sea fishing is yet to be explored due to bureaucratic tangles. He urged that oceanic/maritime opportunities be utilized to maximize the potential of the blue economy.
However, he reminded the audience that the “sea is no longer a benign medium as globalization has made the seas vulnerable with an increase in terrorism, arms smuggling, piracy, human trafficking, poaching etc.” The navies of over 120 nations are always on alert to safeguard their interests and they also have the added responsibility of providing disaster relief with extreme climatic conditions.
“The Indian Navy has emerged as a force ready to take on any challenges,” he said listing out the four roles of navy. The first is the military role where it guards India’s maritime interests; second is the constabulary role where it carries out surveillance and coordinated patrols; third is the benign role in times of disaster relief; and evacuation and fourth is the diplomatic role which has focus on joint exercises and maritime cooperation. He added that India has vast maritime interests and the responsibility of protecting those interests are wrested on the men in white.
In conclusion, he dwelt on what needs to be done to secure India’s rise as a maritime power. He suggested that there is a need to evolve a national level maritime policy and there should be an apex level organization to coordinate the activities of the large number of agencies that operate in the maritime domain. He opined that there is a need to draw a maritime roadmap with all the littoral neighbours to implement the vision of SAGAR. Another interesting suggestion that he put forth was the formulation of ‘Swachch Sagar’ on the lines of Swachch Bharat to clean up the oceans.
“The current century is the century of the seas. India has once again turned towards the sea and is destined to emerge as a maritime nation,” he said.
Ambassador Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary who chaired the session said, “India’s emergence as a great power will be anchored in its maritime potential.”
The talk was organized by the Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi in association with the India Habitat Centre.
(Reported by Lekshmi Parameswaran. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The video of the lecture as well as its transcript will be uploaded shortly on www.spsindia.in and www.southasiamonitor.org)