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India and the Ocean: Taking Stock on World Ocean Day

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As June 8 marks the World Ocean Day, discussion on social media was about the environmental concerns that the ocean ecosystem has been facing today. It is a time to reflect upon the action and vision that our Indian government is offering in recent times, in safeguarding the interests of the ocean. Modi government’s renewed interest in the ocean by seeing it as a major instrument to achieve prosperity in the region has been promising for the ocean ecosystem. They can be broadly traced in three points.

  1. By committing itself to the ban of single-use plastics by 2022, India in a way is leading the cause of fighting the degradation of the ocean ecosystem.
  2. India, in the Modi era, is positioning itself as a major player in ocean affairs through various strategic deals beyond its shores. These measures are expected to shape a cooperative and sustainable development of the ocean ecosystem will indirectly contribute to evolving a consensus among different stakeholders and thereby serving the environmental cause of the oceans.
  3. Indian government’s thrust on achieving blue revolution also serves the cause as the goal can only be achieved through the sustainable model of development.
Marine Environment- India’s Commitment

In February 2017, United Nations Environment Programme launched the ‘Clean Seas’ Programme. The main agenda of the programme is to bring a consensus across the globe to contain the use of single-use plastics which are the main cause of ocean pollution. In 2018, India announced its commitment to eliminate all single-use plastics such as carry bags, straws, and water bottles by 2022 when India celebrates 75 years of the country’s independence.

Observing the environment day back in 2018, PM Modi said this:

“Marine litter, especially micro-plastic, is a major trans-boundary problem and is now entering our food chain. India is preparing to join the clean seas campaign. However, per capita plastic consumption in India is lower than that in many parts of the developed world.”

PM Modi also received the UNEP Champions of the Earth award for this policy action, among others.

Ocean as a Strategic Field

It is obvious that India under Modi era has conceived the ocean as a part of a larger strategic instrument of regional interest. This itself may not spell out any environment-specific intentions. But the moment you treat the ocean as a strategic asset, it is understood that India will act on all the fronts that serve the interests of the ocean ecosystem.

PM Modi coined a term SAGAR that lays out India’s vision on the ocean. It stands for ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’.  India endorses the growth of the Blue Economy in a sustainable, inclusive and people-centered manner through the framework of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and recognizes that more than 95% of our trade is being carried on by sea.

Through the measures like building strategic assets in the Indian Ocean countries, Mauritius and Seychelles and taking a lead in strengthening cooperation in disaster response interventions among Indian Ocean Rim Association, India has already signaled to the world about the important role it is going to play in the ocean affairs in the days to come.

Domestic Developments

Within India, many concrete steps have been taken to indicate that India treats the sea as a significant component in its race towards development. The projects such as Sagaramala are overhauling the infrastructure that is so important to achieve prosperity along the shore.

There are other significant policy decisions that aim at sustainable development of ocean resources.

An umbrella scheme “Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling, and Science (O-SMART)”, has been in place for implementation during the period from 2017-18 to 2019-20.  Implementation of O-SMART is expected to help in addressing issues relating to Sustainable Development Goal-14, which aims to conserve the use of oceans, marine resources for sustainable development.  This scheme also provides the necessary scientific and technological background required for the implementation of various aspects of the blue economy.

Conclusion

History tells that once upon a time India had played a leading role in the oceans. It appears that India under Modi era is once again laying the foundation for the re-emergence of those days. In this endeavour, environmental concerns have been taken care of as India is evidently pursuing a sustainable development model as well.

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