SAGARMALA PROGRAMME – A GAME CHANGER BUT NATIONAL MARITIME AUTHORITY REQUIRED

‘Sagarmala’, the government’s flagship programme to promote port-led development in the country aims to deliver impact through over 150 projects and initiatives in four broad areas. Modernising India’s port infrastructure, improving port connectivity, tapping the potential of port led industrialisation to boost industrial and export growth along the coastline and harnessing the potential of coastal communities through focused skill-development to support port-led industrialisation.

The National Perspective Plan on ‘Sagarmala’ was released by Prime Minister Modi during the inauguration of the ‘Maritime India Summit 2016’ in Mumbai on 14 April 2016. The plan, crafted after detailed consultations with key stakeholders in the central and state governments, public sector companies as well as private players from shipping, ports, ship-building, power, cement and steel sectors, takes forward Sagarmala’s vision of substantially reducing exportimport and domestic trade costs with a minimal investment. It is planned to mobilise one trillion INR in the port sector, and increase port capacity to 3000 million tonnes from the current 1400 million tonnes.

To improve connectivity and give a boost to ‘Make in India’, major legislative reforms have been carried out over the past two years to codify, rationalise and simplify maritime statutes, Acts, rules & regulations. Emphasis is being laid on egovernance, to make government transactions footfall and hassle-free, costeffective and efficient, and also rein in discretion and corruption in the process. In his address, the Prime Minister stressed the need to integrate the ocean network with India’s inland river systems, stating that coastal communities can become an engine of growth of India.

While the vision and sweep of Sagarmala is commendable, what is now needed is a National Maritime Authority (NMA). Sagarmala is an important endeavour and the addition of NMA would provide it continuity as well as the backing of Parliament. While important legislative reforms have been made, two legislations, – Factory Safety Act and Labour Safety Act have been left out. Without reforms here, labour will remain inefficient and unproductive. The aspect of skill development must also extend the focus to also include the unorganised sector. Labour here for the most part is uneducated/ poorly educated.

For the Coast Guard (CG) to exercise effective control over coastal waters, the Shipping Ministry must transfer the Light Houses and Lightships Department to the CG. The New Act must also give overall charge of state audit of merchant ships plying in Indian waters and ports to CG. This would result in coastal shipping and navigation becoming safe as any nonrecognised target in the coast would show up on coastal radar CCTVs. To improve centre-state coordination and negate corruption, both the coastal police and the coastal customs must be placed under the operational charge of CG as is the norm in countries like the US, China, Russia, Canada and many others. Only then can control over coastal waters be effective.

Delineation of coastal fairways, bouyage, navigation aids etc. rarely work. With the permission of IMO, the same have to be marked on the charts. Like the Japanese, the shipping ministry must create and mark ‘fishing safe havens’ on the charts. This would help Indian fishermen and prevent their straying into hostile waters where they could be apprehended by Pakistani or Sri Lankan naval personnel.

The most developed river water system in the world is of the Mississippi River Basin. It covers hinterland up to 800 miles and then the Tributaries. One third of American industry is on its banks up to 300 miles. It took 200 years and billions of dollars for the US Army Corps of Engineers to develop this basin. Later, the Panama Canal system was built by the same Corps of Engineers. It may be in order to consider building the capacity of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers to construct our own river water system.

It is also for consideration to note that after World War II, the US had submitted a 2000 page comprehensive report with drawings for inland waterways. The copy may still be lying in HQ Western Naval Command Headquarters where Commander in 1976 and could be useful. The Americans also had a plan to cut an arc in Visakhapatnam Port. The advantage was a deep water port plus one way traffic, but the project was shelved as the war ended abruptly. Copy of the report may be available with HQ Eastern Naval Command.

Finally, let us remember that a plan is only as good as its execution. We have the 150 beads projects), but we need a maestro to string them into a ‘mala’. Therein lies the key to success.

Commander PP Batra is a Delhi based defence commentator and analyst.

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