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Dr. Vishwapati Trivedi: Blue Economy Coastal Development and Environment
By SEA AND COAST | 08/02/2017

“Blue Economy” was a concept developed with the idea of exploring the marine resources in the most environment friendly way. The concept has now been extended and adapted to exploring and developing infrastructure which helps maritime activity on the sea while also factoring in measures for mitigating environmental pollution.

 

If you think that the 7,500-km-long coastline that India is endowed with has immense economic potential, then think beyond!

Not just the coastline, there is immense potential hidden in the ocean, around the peninsular India, which can take the sea-based economy to greater heights when exploited in a least intrusive manner.

India’s coastal zones are very important due to vital transport routes and industrial activities, offering prime recreation and tourist spots, home to mega cities and natural habitat of almost 7% of the population of the country.

On the other hand, the coastal development at a large scale, being undertaken under the Sagarmala project, is constrained by the environmental hazards especially with more and more intensive use of the coastal areas leading to concerns about sustainability. The Sagarmala project attempts to make the most of the natural maritime advantage of India’s 7,500-km coastline covering 13 states and union territories, and 14,500 km of navigable and potentially navigable waterways. Sagarmala identifies opportunities for reducing the overall logistics costs and enhance the efficiency of ports with a focus on port-led development.

It is high time India braced itself up for such an ambitious project. The Government must enhance the quantum of cargo movement by sea and inland waterways, rather than by road or rail, in order to make logistics cheaper and also eco-friendly. Technology will drive commercial shipping, naval activity, and ocean space.

The environmental impact could be broadly on three fronts;

Positive, when the cargo traffic moves from hinterland to water.

Negative, if the construction and traffic disturbs the flora and fauna. Positive, if enough care is taken to mitigate and careful planning is done to segregate the sensitive and the depleted locations.

Coastal shipping in India is governed by the Merchant Shipping Act 1958. The importance of coastal shipping has, over the years, been subsumed by the giant activity relating to ocean going ships. As a consequence, not much has therefore developed in terms of policy platform or a special and separate regulatory dispensation for coastal shipping.

This, combined with the relentless emphasis by the Governments, be it state or the central, on the development of the roads and railways since independence left coastal shipping as an unattended sector. The present Government has renewed its emphasis on developing coastal areas.

Coastline, being a very important geographical boundary for all nations, is regulated differently by different countries. Regulating the coastal cargo traffic, the laws are collectively termed “Cabotage”. In the United States of America, the Cabotage rules emanated from the Jones Act of 1920. The policy in the US is of ‘absolute cabotage’. Under the provisions of this Act, no foreign ship can move the cargo on the coastline of the United States of America. The ships, which can move the cargo, are all owned by US companies, built in the US and manned by US citizens. The need for such a law was based on the assumption that the US wanted its commercial gain in trading in the US coast was restricted to the US flag ships, so that the coastal fleet could grow. And in times of a worldwide crisis, the US owned assets are available to the Government for use. This, when compared to laissez faire doctrine is not an optimal solution, but the security considerations and the role of the US in global politics, perhaps overrides economic considerations.

The economic cost of such restrictions is high but the US policy perhaps considers it worthwhile to keep it that way. In other countries, the restrictions range from extreme to very liberal. In India, we do not have ‘absolute’ Cabotage. Instead, the Indian Cabotage restrictions are restricted to “right of first refusal’. The Indian shipping companies are given the right of first refusal. Failing their participation, the Director General of Shipping can issue permits for limited ‘one time voyage’. If they want a longer permit, the ‘manning’ restrictions kick in requiring a certain proportion of employment on the ship to Indian seafarers. Whether this policy has worked over the years is not certain, as the gross tonnage registered in the smaller coastal vessels has not grown substantially. The debate goes on. The Government has selectively relaxed the Cabotage restrictions in India, but the need to do more persists. Internationally, the Cabotage regimes have been organised in a range given below. Range of Cabotage Regimes Japan/China/US/Canada/EU/ India/Australia Very Restrictive Liberal The Union Ministry of Shipping has ambitious plans for the growth of coastal shipping in India. This sets the agenda for an environmental friendly growth along the coastal belt. This component of the growth must be integrated under the flagship programme of Sagarmala.

While policy for encouraging the growth of coastal shipping is important, the pros and the cons are to be evaluated carefully. The affirmative action in the development of coastal shipping can be either for improvement of the regulatory regime, including a policy to actively promote through fiscal and financial sops or for development of a supporting environmental friendly infrastructure dedicated to coastal shipping. The infrastructure will be an overall part of the development under the Sagarmala project, with the ports and port-led development being its main intent.

If the policy and environmental concerns are well integrated and implemented briskly, we can expect the coastal shipping in India to grow at the pace envisaged by the Union Ministry of Shipping.




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