Sustaining Blue Economy and Indian Challenges

 By Dr. Manjari Singh

The concept of sustainable development is the core idea behind Blue Economy and is reflected in its definition. The term was first coined during 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio Summit and since then it has become a buzzword for marine development. It is an evolving concept that focuses on enhancing economic development and the various paraphernalia attached to it while preserving marine ecosystem simultaneously. According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report of 2014 (UNCTAD), the concept of Blue Economy is derived from green economy and shares similar outcomes wherein the focus is to improve human well-being and social equity while “reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”.[i] The World Bank defined the term in 2017 as one that incorporates “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs and ocean ecosystem health”[ii] and encompasses a wide variety of activities such as renewable energy, fisheries, maritime transport, waste management, tourism and climate change.

Furthermore, a report published in 2017 by the World Bank in collaboration with International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) further expands the sectors of Blue Economy and includes aquaculture, marine biotechnology and bio-prospecting, extractive industries from non-renewable sources from areas under national and extra-national jurisdiction, desalination, and supportive activities like ocean monitoring and surveillance, ecosystem based management, activities supporting carbon sequestration (blue carbon), and supportive financial mechanisms.[iii] The inclusion of various sectors in the Blue Economy paradigm began after the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) unveiled its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in January 2016 wherein Goal 14 talks about ‘life below water’.[iv]

In the Indian context, ‘life below water’ means to “conserve sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.[v] In line with the SDGs each country presents its Voluntary National Review report (VNR) on Sustainable Development. India presented its VNR in July 2017 and focused on implementation of some of the SDGs crucial to its development. In this regard, SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14, and 17 dealing with ‘no hunger’, ‘zero poverty’, ‘good health and well-being’, ‘gender equality’, ‘industry, innovation and infrastructure’, ‘life below water’ and ‘revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development’ respectively were discussed in detail.

With regard to SDG 14 the report claims that India has “taken various steps to protect and enhance the coastal and marine ecosystem”[vi] and the first Maritime Summit was organised in Mumbai in April 2016 with the participation of 42 countries. The most important outcome was highlighting the key role played by port-led infrastructure development for “faster and sustainable economic growth”.[vii] To boost such port developments the National Perspective Plan of Sagarmala Project was inaugurated with the various key stakeholders in the central as well as state governments, public sector companies and various private sectors. The main vision behind the plan is to reduce export-import and domestic trade costs with minimum investment and to promote water transportation as the top priority. The project could result in an annual logistics cost saving of over US$5 billion as well as with a potential to boost Indian merchandise exports to US$110 billion by 2025. It will also help in job creation to the tune of 10 million of which four million would be direct employment.

On 1 November 2018, Ministry of Shipping funded an International Maritime Conference and Exhibition organised by Institute of Marine Engineers in Mumbai. During the conference, Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Chemical Fertilisers Mansukh Mandaviya pointed out that “coastal shipping is the topmost priority of the Ministry of Shipping” and the government is keen on increasing the share of freight transport through coastal routes 7 per cent to 10 per cent by 2020; this would help in saving US$2.8-3.5 billions. It was also pointed out that the ministry is working on to build 14 Coastal Economic Zones (CEZs) which would generate huge employment in the coastal areas.[viii]

Portrayed as the most promising plan, the Sagarmala project, claims to be based on four strategic principles, namely, “optimizing multi-modal transport” towards reducing the cost of domestic cargo; “minimizing the time and cost of export-import cargo logistics”; “lowering cost for bulk industries” by locating them closer to the coast; and finally “improving export competitiveness” which will require locating discrete manufacturing clusters near ports or agglomeration economies.[ix] The other important developmental benefits linked to the project are in terms of creation of new ports, port connectivity, port-led industrialization and harnessing the potential of coastal communities (See Figure).

While the project seems ambitious but one cannot ignore the challenges facing maritime developments in India. Major constraints to port-led development are as follows: high logistics cost, long lead-times and poor linkages between industrial and logistics infrastructure, incompatibility amongst stakeholders, inadequate and poor port capacity. Added to these waterways transportation has been under-utilized even though it is a cheaper way of transportation than roads and railways. Sagarmala project has already identified the commodities that are to be transported which include thermal coal, fertilisers, food grains, cement, and steel. However, it will be too soon to assess its success.

It is essential for the country to ensure sustainability of fisheries as it has the highest population of fishing communities in the world and around 14.5 million are directly dependent on this activity and are spread across 3,600 villages. To facilitate the vision to bring in “blue revolution” a central plan called as Integrated Development and Management of Fisheries has been formulated. Moreover, another Integrated National Fisheries Action Plan of 2016 aims at connecting 15 million beneficiaries for livelihood opportunities through various interventions. National Policy on Marine Fisheries of 2017 seeks a holistic plan to bring in sustainable development, socio-economic upliftment of fishing communities, principle of subsidiarity[x], partnership, inter-generational equity, gender justice and precautionary approach. However, these plans and policies are in their nascent stage and India has been under-utilising its marine resources until now. Indeed, 41-page Indian VNR report devotes only one and a half page for Blue Economy or “life below water”.[xi]

Other challenges facing Blue Economy are unsustainable fishing practices and outdated methods, physical alteration and destruction of coastal habitats and landscapes by constructing factories which do not use pollution control mechanisms, marine pollution, impacts of coastal storms, unfair trade and under-utilised water transportation system. To make Blue Economy sustainable in India needs a lot of ground work in terms of overcoming the basic challenges; moreover, most of the developments in developing marine economy or Blue Economy are in their infant stage and would require a collaboration of all the stakeholders and an inclusive approach to achieve SDG14.


[i] UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) (2014), The Ocean Economy: Opportunities and Challenges for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), United Nations, Geneva, p. 2, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[ii] World Bank (2017), “What is Blue Economy?”, 6 June, Washington D.C, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[iii] World Bank-United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) (2017), The Potential of the Blue Economy: Increasing Long-term Benefits of the Sustainable Use of Marine Resources for Small Island Developing States and Coastal Least Developed Countries, p. 5, Washinton D.C., Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[iv]UNDESA-UNDP (2016), Sustainable Development Goals, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[v] VNR India (Voluntary National Review) (2017), On the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, NITI Aayog, New Delhi, p. 25, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] PIB-Ministry of Shipping (2016), Sagarmala Project, Government of India, 21 July, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[viii] PIB-Ministry of Shipping (2018), “Minister Shri Mansukh Mandaviya Inaugurates ‘International Maritime Conference and Exhibition 2018’ in Mumbai”, Press Release, 1 November, Mumbai, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[ix] PIB-Ministry of Shipping, 2016.
[x]According to Democracia Participativa, Principle of Subsidiarity is the “the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level”.  It was first introduced to the European Union in the Treaty of Maastricht as a general principle applicable to all areas of non-exclusive competence, Available at:, (Accessed on 19 January 2019).
[xi] VNR India, 2017.
Figure Source: Ministry of Shipping, “Sagarmala Project”,
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Dr. Manjari Singh is an Associate Fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and she obtained her doctorate from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for her thesis on Sustainable Development in Jordan: A Study of Social, Economic and Environmental Dimensions. Dr. Singh is a Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) Fellow and is specializes in sustainable development and the Middle East. Her research papers have appeared in international journals such as Contemporary Review of the Middle East, Mediterranean Quarterly, and Migration and Development. She has co-authored Persian Gulf 2018: India’s Relations with the Region (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan) and has co-edited Islamic Movements in the Middle East: Ideologies, Practices and Political Participation (New Delhi: Knowledge World) and Challenges to National Security: Young Scholars Perspective (New Delhi: Pentagon Press)She also serves as Assistant Editor of Contemporary Review of the Middle East (Sage Publications) and Managing Editor of CLAWS Journal (KW Publishers).