Need to utilise maritime potential

Need to utilise maritime potential

India has a long, 7,500 km long coastline but its maritime potential is badly underutilised. The country once had a strong maritime tradition but it has not grown with the development of the world. India is strategically so located that it can develop linkages by the sea to both East and West. So, the government’s new initiatives to modernise and develop the country’s ports are welcome for many reasons. The recent Maritime India Summit held in Mumbai affirmed these plans.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared at the summit that the maritime plans will be implemented along with the hinterland development schemes so that they can complement each other. The Sagarmala project, which was announced last year, is an important part of the overall maritime policy. Since international trade and economic development are closely linked, the need for developing ports is self-evident. Most of the world trade is done using ships and containers from ports to ports.

Indian ports are ill-equipped to handle big containers and this has necessitated reshipping at Colombo. Major ports should be developed and their infrastructure improved so that they can adequately handle the country’s shipping needs. The large number of small and medium ports should also be developed to play a supportive role and to serve the regions where they are located. The development of ports will involve building of other facilities like road and rail links and industrial, manufacturing and township ventures in proximity. This will lead to development of the coastal areas. Everywhere in the world coastal areas have led economic development. The Maritime India Summit got an encouraging response with investment commitments worth $12 billion. The plan is to increase the country’s port capacity from 1,400 million tonnes per annum to 3,000 mtpa by 2025. All this will call for a much-needed shift to a port-based development strategy.

There is a strategic dimension also to the development of ports. India has to take seriously its role as an Indian Ocean power. The world’s busiest shipping lanes run on the seas south of the country and they account for a large part of the world trade.

China is planning a maritime silk route, One Belt, One Road, to establish a sea link to Europe and Asia. India is also wary of China building ports in neighbouring countries. Our security interests extend up to the South China Sea. The country should be able to protect its interests with the help of a strong navy. Development of ports is important in this respect also.

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