ESG and Climate Risk Science and Technology

Governance in the Indian Ocean Region: Sustainability of sediment classification applications

  • Indian Ocean region requires long-term regional treaties and agreements for socio-economic development.
  • The regulations and policies of the coastal nations create a complex system of marine governance.
  • India should use its position as the emerging leader of the global south to come up with a plan for increased scientific and economic cooperation.
  • Investment in capacity building and inter-disciplinary expertise is the need of the hour.

The Indian Ocean has helped people, products, ideas, and countries trade by connecting numerous regions. It connected the East and West, making it a crucial trade route. Cultures have developed, traded, and flourished through the waters of the Indian Ocean and it is still a busy waterbody. It facilitates global commerce. The Indian Ocean is significant geopolitically because it is a major trading route, contains oil resources, is strategically located, and has security challenges. These factors have made the Indian Ocean a focus for significant powers, impacting their policies, interests, and conflict.

Thus, we must better understand the seabed to meet social, economic, and scientific requirements. Technology has made marine information, statistics, and tracking simpler. However, they are just words on paper unless ideas are accepted, implemented, and made commercially viable. With expanded reach and usage, locating key stakeholders and incorporating them in a holistic development strategy is more crucial than ever. This would require identifying gaps in global, regional, and national governing frameworks and building capacity and skill development frameworks incorporating value addition fulfilling economic demands and UN Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, governments must assist in sediment classification in critical regions to make it successful, cost-effective, and large-scale.

Current status of policy regulations in the IOR

After World War II, the United Nations (UN) set up the nation-state and international order still in place today. This is how the seas are governed on a national and global scale. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) sets the rules for protecting and controlling sea resources in places where no one country has jurisdiction. The UNCLOS also sets rules for how member countries can use their power in an area of 200 nautical miles, i.e. the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). For instance, part XII of UNCLOS has a rule that helps protect the sea environment. While article 207 talks about what the states must do to clean up and care for the sea environment. In 1973, the International Maritime Organisation institutionalized MARPOL, or the International Convention on Preventing Marine Pollution from Ships. This is the international tool for cutting down on pollution in the ocean caused by ships.

Moreover, the UNCLOS led to the creation of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in 1995 as an international group to set rules for marine exploration and exploitation, including the seabed, ocean floor, and groundwater not controlled by the state. These rules cover many things, like studies of how human interventions affect the environment, tracking and reporting requirements, and worker safety standards.

In addition, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, works primarily to protect environments on land, in water, and the air worldwide. Concerning saving marine life, the IUCN focuses on “Ocean Governance,” which includes rules and agreements for protecting areas beyond state jurisdiction.

Regarding the Indian policies and regulations, the Environmental Protection Act of 1986, and the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification of 2011 control many activities along the coast, including those in the EEZ. It has rules about how to build in a certain way and how to get environmental approvals. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, says that any building project that could affect the EIA must get permission first. This includes things like building in the EEZ. Furthermore, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) oversees making sure environmental protection and conservation rules are followed. This includes projects like building in the EEZ.

Likewise, article 48-A of the Indian Constitution mandates the government to protect the country’s forests and animals. On the other hand, article 51A (g) states that every Indian citizen must do the same thing.  The Water Act of 1974, the Marine Zones of India Act of 1976, the Coast Guard Act of 1978, and the Environmental Protection Act of 1986 also protect the marine areas of India.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has also released the Plastic Garbage Management Regulations, 2016, which will aid people in handling plastic trash in the country. As of July 1, 2022, it won’t make, import, keep, share, sell, or use things made of single-use plastic (SUP) that usually end up in the trash.

Current Policy Developments

Recently, the government of India has been changing old rules and policies and reviewing old articles. But still, there are critical gaps in India’s sea security system that these new legal tools are meant to fill.

The new government is putting a lot of emphasis on “Make in India” and “ indigenizationto improve national security. The theory came out in 2015 and is about working together and making a case for India’s role as a “net security provider” in the coastal region. India is also trying to make these things part of a larger security plan by having joint goals and working together on the blue economy.

In 2018, 2019, and 2021, the National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences led initiatives to clean up beaches, raise awareness, and study how much trash is on shores.

"In August 2021, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chair of the UN Security Council, he spoke at the UNSC Open Debate on "Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case for International Cooperation" and proposed five principles to ensure global maritime security: Removing Obstacles to Legal Maritime Trade, Promoting Responsible Maritime Connectivity, Resolving Maritime Conflicts Peacefully in Line with International Law, and Working Together to Deal with Natural Disasters. "
Challenges in governance

The IOR, home to several of the most unstable, poorly governed, and conflict-prone sovereign entities, has long been the site of international rivalries, tensions, and confrontations. Many island governments in the Indian Ocean have large populations, economic activity, global prominence, sophisticated organizations, and worldwide impact. The Indian Ocean is uniquely positioned because economic and military interests, coastal governments, and practically every significant power outside the region depend on it. Natural resources and an excellent trading location make the IOR economically promising. But sediment classification might be improved and its marine applications in the IOR be provided with defined guidelines.

The fact that regional nations must utilize the same sediment identification methods is a significant issue. Comparing data sets from diverse sources is difficult since they must match. Standardizing methods and reporting will improve regional data usefulness.  Human activities degrade sediments, mining, reclaiming land, and dumping trash may drastically alter sediment formation and harm the ecosystem.

The Indian Ocean nations are also less cooperative than the rest of the globe. Comparatively, the US and Europe have more regional accords in place. There are a handful of regional cooperation bodies comprising all IOR members. IOR nations have laws, norms, and policies for managing their fisheries, but they seldom prohibit illicit, unreported, and unorganized (IUU) fishing. A complicated government system with laws from different countries, regional deals, and foreign rules complicates things. Most Indian Ocean nations have fishing laws but lack data and the ability to implement them. Because there is no control structure, more excellent data, and resources are needed because there are few entities, monetary resources, or experienced resources to solve the issues.

Even though people know that climate change and environmental damage are decremental for the long-term survival of the scarce resources in marine ecosystems, they need more skills and better leadership to do something about it. Conflicts between the Global North and the Global South, or developed and emerging countries, are a recurring theme. Many players have different and often competing interests, such as approval programs that set global standards for producers in poor countries and sometimes weaken state power and northern NGOs that try to protect the environment on the high seas.

Also, it does not help to look at the problem from a national level. Mismanagement and exploitation will continue until special “maritime legislation” exists at the national and regional levels. There needs to be some kind of law to stop piracy acts at sea. The Indian legal system has several actions and rules that control marine activities, such as marking coastal areas, business ships, and moving things by water. Yet the Indian Parliament still has not been able to pass anti-piracy rules.

Policy Interventions for Sediment Management

To maintain IOR’s socio-economic development, these issues must be addressed via policy. The Indian Ocean Region is deficient in modern technologies for monitoring, controlling, and classifying sediments. Poorly executed regulations and laws have caused numerous natural difficulties that must be rectified promptly. Thus, policymakers must move swiftly to continue sediment control practices.

"One way to move forward could be to make rules for standardizing labels across different countries in the same area. The Indian Ocean region can improve sediment classification standards by setting rules for dredging, promoting research on sediment classification, regularly checking sediment quality, and creating a regional database on sediment characteristics, among other things."

Also, since one country cannot solve world problems independently, all nations must work together. To deal with marine risks, people must work together, have the latest technology, do planned maritime training, and be aware. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should have clear directions so that, in an emergency, there are no questions or misunderstandings.

India’s SAGAR Vision envisions continuing at this pace and cooperating further with regional nations. It must get along with countries in its “area of influence.”  India’s actions harm substantive maritime governance by making it difficult for Delhi to concentrate its efforts, resisting China’s involvement in IOR’s maritime governance, and creating organizational barriers. We need laws that facilitate collaboration. This includes asking security-focused bodies like the Quad to address broader maritime issues. IORA might assist New Delhi in governing the oceans with its allies, particularly China and the US. IORA would invite discussion partners to assist with marine difficulties when they arose, without providing permanent membership.

Bureaucratic issues can further hinder decision-making. For example, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) are proposing adjustments to marine security regulations and seeking information from other sectors to fulfill practical and legal technicalities. But lack of multidisciplinary professionals and legal understanding worsens the issue. The Indian government must build interdisciplinary knowledge to build and maintain a legislative system supporting marine security operations, such as collaborating with other nations. 

"Moreover, India should invest more in capacity building. Putting money into cutting-edge technologies like AUVs, ROVs, Machine Learning, the Internet of Things, Advanced Robotics, and high-tech devices is essential. It would involve making important apps and software, like ones that can predict underwater litter distribution, or setting up cloud computing and data hubs to make it easy for different parts of the IOR to share data."

The blue economy is the most essential part of India’s role as G20 chairs this year. The global south is more linked to the Blue Economy (BE) and has more to gain from it than the global north. India’s future Blue Economy plan will guide these actions and help us meet our UN Sustainable Development Goals. Given how important the BE is globally, especially for weak countries in the global south that rely on the ocean, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put it first for growth, a green economy, and social justice.

India should create a single policy-making agency to oversee its South Asian maritime governance strategy. Security and international affairs must invest heavily in cross-disciplinary legal expertise to achieve this. The new National Marine Security Coordinator office might create and update legal instruments. It might help other nations without sophisticated marine security laws. India must demonstrate its commitment to international order and maritime security in a complicated region. Successful policy initiatives to strengthen sediment classification criteria in the Indian Ocean Region may make the environment safer and protect marine species, which is suitable for everyone.

Even with these problems, there are chances for growth in different areas, such as in the tourism industries of the countries that are taking part. Because of this possible rise in tourists, income sources in this area have grown a lot in the past few years. Solid support for scientific research projects that help us learn more about the features of sediments in this vast area by looking into new technologies would allow for efficient tracking and control practices that are good for the environment. Even though the Indian Ocean Region has problems to solve, we can help everyone get on the path to sustainable growth by putting the right policies in areas like sediment classification management or environmental protection rules.

Romit Rajendra Kaware, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Delhi

About Author

Romit Rajendra Kaware is a fresh graduate of B.Tech in Civil Engineering, IIT Delhi and is currently working as a research fellow at MRC. His keen interest lies in scientific research in structures and materials since it help enhance his understanding of the processes used to construct robust infrastructure. Moreover, Romit is passionate about contributing his knowledge of civil engineering in the maritime domain, which can also benefit the nation and the environment

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