Event ReportsPublished on Aug 08, 2012
The limited development of India's maritime capacities is a cause for strategic concern, especially considering the impact on the nation's economy, which is currently dependent on sea-borne trade for its well being.
Urgent need to enhance India's maritime capacity

Development of India’s maritime infrastructure would be a propellant that can feed the aspiration of the nation to greater stature in the 21st century. Currently, the limited development of the nation’s maritime capacities is a cause for strategic concern especially considering the impact on the nation’s economy, which is currently dependent on sea-borne trade for its well being. This view was clearly expressed at the seminar on ’Enhancing Maritime Capacity in India’ held on 8 August 2012 at the ORF premises.

The seminar focussed on maritime capacity building, indentifying the various lacunae of the shipping industry and the challenges in addressing the same. India’s port infrastructure, ship building infrastructure, research and development institutions and maritime policy and legal frameworks emerged as major areas of deliberation.

Lt. Gen. Nirbhay Sharma, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, began the day’s proceedings commenting on India’s traditions as a seafaring and maritime nation and the loss of the same over the past few centuries. He stated that policymakers in the nation have become obsessed with the continental strategy, due to the "immediate and visible" security situation, at the detriment of the "latent and invisible" aspects of our overall security. He said there is a need for a realistic and effective maritime policy. He also stressed on the need for a coordinated authority to control the maritime sector of the country which was once a great maritime nation.

Adm. Arun Prakash’s inaugural address, ’Maritime Capacity Building and Indian Imperatives’, provided a broad insight into India’s maritime traditions, capacities, capabilities and shortcomings. The Admiral, who is now a member of the National Security Advisory Board, raised a few pertinent questions that were introspection of India’s maritime goals and as to whether they were realistic? He also questioned the wherewithal of the nation to integrate a massive amount of investment (Rs five lakh crores) over the next ten years for funding maritime development of India’s maritime infrastructure?

He blamed the absence of strategic thinking at the political and bureaucratic levels for India’s ineffective maritime policy. "For 65 years, we have been unable to formulate a maritime vision, and there is lack of cohesion and coordination in maritime policies; mainly because there is no one to provide leadership and focus, and the left hand does not know what the right is doing," Admiral Arun Prakash said.

He said due to the absence of strategic thinking, India has utterly failed to capitalize on the immense potential that resides in the maritime sector. "While the world has moved on, our ports and infrastructure remains inefficient, our shipbuilding industry is sluggish and merchant shipping grows at snail’s pace, offshore energy exploitation is stagnating, the fishing industry is backward, and human resource development is inadequate.

"We are sitting on a goldmine which could generate huge employment and investment opportunities and actually transform our economy. While at the same time, nations which were on par with us, or even lagging behind in many indicators, a few decades ago, have surged ahead because of the vision, dynamism and resolve they have demonstrated in this vital area," Admiral Arun Prakash said.

The Admiral identified the lack of understanding of the nuances of "sea power" and maritime blindness as the foremost shortcoming of the nation He suggested that probably this is what had resulted in multiple governmental agencies in maritime domain policy decision making process in which there were as many as sixteen ministries were involved. For example while fisheries come under the Ministry of Agriculture, the Navy and Coastguard under the Defence Ministry; offshore exploration come under the preview of the Ministry of Petroleum; Unfortunately there existed no focal point or nodal organization that dealt with maritime affairs - a sheer necessity required to achieve a degree of coherence and coordination for implementation of maritime policies.

Commenting on the Maritime Agenda 2020 (MA 2020) released by the Prime Minister last year in 2011, Admiral Arun Prakash said though it was comprehensive paper, he doubted on its implementation as this was the third such perspective plan on the maritime sector during the last seven years. He termed the MA2020 as ambitious, if not unrealistic in terms of the goals that had set for itself. Furthermore, its focus was found to be limited to ports and infrastructure while missing out on other crucial aspects like shipbuilding, merchant navy, fisheries and related economic actives as well as the overall development of human resources in this sector.

Admiral Arun Prakash said unless the ’Maritime Agenda 2010-2020" is translated into a time-bound action plan which is resolutely implemented and closely monitored, it may remain just another document, as announced by the government three times earlier also.

Saying it is time to involve private sector in the maritime capacity building through public-private partnerships, Admiral Arun Prakash said "most politicians leave the running of ministries to bureaucrats, who for all their brilliance and administrative skills, are not known either for commitment or decision-making. So, if there is any salvation, it lies, in private enterprises, because as the saying goes: India grows at night while the government sleeps".

The second session aimed at addressing the challenges to ship building in India was chaired by Adm. Suresh Mehta, another former Navy Chief. He also stressed on the need to involve private sector in shipbuilding which also needs to be incentivized by the government. Vice Adm PC Bhasin’s and R Adm. Arun Saxena’s papers on warship building and technological imperatives for the Navy highlighted the need for a robust shipbuilding industry being identified as central to India’s national interest. Vice.Adm Bhasin said that there were a number of structural, technological and administrative limitations that need to be addressed in the field of (war) shipbuilding. For this, the in-house ship designing and building capabilities needed to be strengthened.

He also noted the monopolistic nature public sector had lowered the efficiency of most Indian public shipyards. According to the speaker the issue of poor performance of the public sector can be tackled only be increased the role of private players in this industry and there by the ’laws of competition’. He strongly advocated the addressing issues relative to shipyard management, its efficiency, optimal delivery of results, and transparent evaluation mechanisms for the public sector shipyards. He pointed out that the current scenario did not have a level playing field between the private and the public sector shipyards.

The sluggishness of the public sector and the limited role played by the private sector along with inadequate policies were acknowledged as the major factors limiting the growth of shipbuilding in India, which was brought out by Cmde. M Jitendran. According to the speaker, in order to achieve a robust shipbuilding capability India had to ensure an investor friendly environment, with level playing field in issues regarding policy implementation and taxation. Similarly on ports, he pointed out that a professional regulatory authority is required to manage the scenario with due fairness to all stake holders.

In this light, Cmde Jitendran stressed on the importance of dredging technology, which provided a key ingredient to any significant advancement to maritime capacity. He opined that the lack of this capacity and its ability to meet the growing demands has proved to be a major constraint to shipyards and shipping in general. He suggested the nation must design and build its own dredgers and restrict foreign dredgers from carrying our dredging activities on the Indian coast three years from hence.

The ensuing discussions debated a number of critical issues ranging from the relevance of public private partnerships to the indigenous development of weapons and sensor systems; creation of a design bureau and the changing the perception about the maritime sector as a whole.

The Chair of the third session, V Adm. Y Prasad focussed on the infrastructural challenges in the maritime domain. The speaker Capt. Narula from SCI provided crucial insights into India’s commercial shipping industry. He identified the major constraints as limited availability of land and financial resources, acceptance of modern technology across the board, procedural constraints in the form of delayed decision making and inadequate policy and regulatory framework. Additionally, the limited role of the private sector was attributed to inadequate regulatory frameworks in the industry. On the other hand the next speaker Cmde. Rajeev Sawhney touched upon the numerous coastal defence architectures and security regimes. He highlighted the issues and challenges faced in securing India’s long coastline. In this regard, the role of the various security agencies and mechanisms involved in maritime security was stressed upon.

The fourth and final session on analysing the future. Titled "Looking Ahead", the session emphasised the strategic significance of coastal infrastructure for India and the economic imperatives behind the development of maritime infrastructure. This aspect was also stressed by V. Adm. P Kaushiva in his paper "Maritime Infrastructure in India" wherein he added that the primary threats in the maritime dimension comprised of smuggling, trafficking, piracy and maritime terrorism. The shipping industries perspective was underlined by Mr. Anil Devli. The difficulties that the industry faced included the question of cabotage, regulation of transhipment and the inadequate infrastructure in Indian ports.

The need for a National Maritime Board to govern maritime issues and coordinate various maritime agencies is the prime recommendation that emerged during the extensive discussion after the session. The Chair, R Adm. Raja Menon acknowledged the need for private sector expansion in naval warship building and the requirement for change of policy and legal framework.

To conclude a set of issues that were commonly raised by all participants was the need to have, professionals and naval experts instead of bureaucrats to man the various aspects of the maritime domain. This was accompanied by the call to improve port infrastructure, modernization of equipment, overall technological advancements and training of personnel, improving the efficiency of the public sector and encouragement of public-private partnership.

It was felt that such an outcome needed a national level co-ordination of different agencies for maritime infrastructure development as well as adoption of similar measures across our territorial boundaries. Establishment of an overarching agency, like a Maritime Authority/Board, staffed by professionals covering every aspect of the "maritime domain" from ports to fisheries, shipbuilding to shipping and security was the need of the day.

In addition to this, the regulation and limitation faced by the Indian private sector in shipping, shipbuilding and port management needed to be re-examined. For this there was a requirement to revisit the existing tax regime and procedural systems.

The participants also urged the Government to bestow the statues of "infrastructure sector" to the entire maritime domain including shipping, ports, and shipbuilding along with adequate financial incentives.

(This report is prepared by Sripathi Narayanan, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation)

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