In today's Finshots, we talk about the blue economy policy and see how the country could benefit from oceans.


The Story

When we look at India’s map, we sometimes forget that our boundaries extend well beyond the coastlines. We are blessed with a 7500 km long shoreline and more than 2 million sq. km of exclusive economic zones — ocean territories adjoining coastal areas where India can exercise its sovereign rights. Not many nations can boast of such statistics and not many countries have access to the kind of resources that we have. But for the better part of our history, we have ignored the ocean altogether and failed to put these resources to good use. We could have added billions to our GDP and created millions of new jobs. But we didn’t and it’s been a sore point for a while now. However, things are looking up. And the government is now formulating a ‘blue economy policy’ that will hopefully remedy this problem and outline a strategy to put our enormous ocean resources to good use.

We know what you’re thinking. Putting resources to good use will almost inevitably lead to its destruction. We’ll probably end up polluting the water the same way we polluted our lands. But that’s not what this is about. The world bank defines the “Blue economy” as a “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem”. Meaning, we have to do it in a way that’s sustainable. And while it’s possible things might not work out exactly as intended, we have to be hopeful.

Anyway, right now the so-called “Blue economy” contributes around just 4% to India’s GDP. But the problem here is that we don’t know if the number is really accurate. So perhaps the first order of business right now ought to be this — Conduct a thorough study of all the subsectors that contribute to the blue economy, figure out the extent of their contribution and see the kind of damage we may have inadvertently caused. Think of it as a comprehensive accounting framework with relevant data and intelligence related to the blue economy. Once we have access to this data, maybe government agencies can understand it better, tweak their policy and perhaps better regulate private investment in certain sectors.

But what are these sectors really and who are the important stakeholders?

Well, it could be fishermen tugging their boats into the sea, people who earn a livelihood on beautiful beaches, businesses that cater to tourists along the pristine coastlines of Kerala and Goa, shipping companies and port operators and also energy companies who explore the deep seas in the hope of stumbling on oil deposits. It could be any of them. The big problem here is that these different stakeholders may find themselves at odds with each other when going about their business. So the document calls for a mapping of the entire coastline including the extended ocean space to make sure different participants do not interfere with each other’s businesses. Maybe we could also clearly state what areas could be designated as tourist areas, commercial spaces, industrial zones, and so on.

The next challenge is to build relevant infrastructure that can harness the economic potential of oceanic resources. We have nine coastal states, 1,382 islands, and 199 ports built in these areas. Unfortunately, only 12 qualify to be called major ports. All of this existing infrastructure handles approximately 1,400 million tons of cargo each year. But there is still a lot to be desired. We need sophisticated last-mile connectivity. We need cruise terminals and marinas, we need shipyards that can build fishing trawlers, luxury cruise liners and container carriers. And we need them now.

Finally, the policy calls for an assessment of the fisheries department — a business that sustains over 4 million people — maybe even more if you consider all the industries fishing feeds into. In India, fishing largely means staying near the coastline, but mid and deep-sea zones are woefully underused. The new policy calls for incentivizing the use of these deeper areas to meet demand from both domestic sources and abroad. Having said that, the government also wants to have reasonable checks and balances in place to make sure people don’t overfish and put the ecology out of balance. Maybe we could use the same tech to keep an eye out for areas that are indeed ripe for fishing and nudge fishermen away from unproductive areas.

Finally, there is the deep sea. The surface holds copious amounts of minerals and metal deposits. And while we would need major investments in the scientific exploration of oceans, this could be a source of great windfall. Speaking of wind, oceans also extend opportunities to tap into wind and tidal energy and that’s another thing the draft document alludes to. In summary, the policy highlights the vast potential hidden within the oceanic ecosystem and makes some good recommendations of how we can improve the lives of those living along the coastline whilst also preserving marine ecology.

Hopefully, the blue economy thrives for many years to come.

Until then…

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Correction in yesterday's story: We noted that the Nyan Cat meme was sold in 2011. However it was only sold last Friday. The error is regretted