Maritime Development: A Dream Agenda
Cmde M Jitendran, Chief Consultant, Indian Register Of Shipping

Despite launch of various maritime development plans in order to give much needed fillip to maritime sector ultimately giving thrust to the economy, these plans are not able to bring the Indian shipping sector on growth trajectory. In this article, as the nation is going to face elections in near future, the author has summarised wish list for the new leadership.

Not very long ago, during the last decade or so, we had a Sagar Mala programme and later a revised NMDP, a new maritime development plan, all aimed at giving the lagging maritime sector a huge boost to power the economy to greater heights. Sadly what we do not have well documented is what is the status now, what has been achieved, what has not been achieved and why; and in which direction the new government will head. None of the parties in the fray for the coming election ever talk about the sustained development of this sector as a must for economic growth. This is indeed depressing and perhaps highlights the damage that lack of good leadership in the sector can do to the long term growth prospects of this great country.

The last three or four years have indeed been a huge downturn for the maritime industry in many ways. Low freight rates, cash strapped shipyards, unviable and low priced orders and unmanageable delays are all something we would all like to forget and get on to a new growth track. Here is a dream agenda, which the new leadership can consider:

Young Visionary Leader
We desperately need a leader who will steer the industry out of the morass in a sustainable fashion with the support of all stakeholders in a constructive manner. He should be fairly young and dynamic and firm in his approach. He should be able to increase the awareness levels of the potential of this vital sector and steer it on a sustainable growth path beneficial to the country in the long run. He should be a man of great integrity and should be well versed with all elements of the sector and the underlying legislations. He should be able to debate and discuss various policy issues fearlessly in a transparent manner, reduce irritants for business segments and generate employment. He should be young enough to achieve long term goals without having retirement stare at him.

Prioritise Maritime Infrastructure
A fresh mind and new ideas have to be brought in to develop maritime infrastructure on a fast track and on a world class basis. All old ideas that have failed to deliver must be dumped. An all India view is required and a port-centric or state-centric development must be avoided. The infrastructure should be such that the entire country would be serviced for the next century smoothly. New facilitating laws on coastal areas and water front need to be enacted to enable clearing a lot of ambiguity businesses face today. Expansion of facilities and creation of new facilities should enable functionality to its full potential. Special independent professional bodies must be set up and they must work in close conjunction with the ministry to ensure synergy in development. Ports, channels, rail and road are national assets like Spectrum and therefore needs synergy in development and usage. Sufficient scope must be there in the scheme for enterprenuers to set up businesses smoothly with a long term vision.

Impetus to Coastal Shipping
Any number of roads or highways we construct is never going to be adequate for the future. In fact, Mother Nature has beautifully designed the coastline of Mother India to accept coastal shipping and decongest our coastal highways. Imagine a scenario where we have a large number of RO RO ships and barges embarking and disembarking various types of trucks along the coastline where they then go hinterland without any loading or unloading at any coastal station something like a stretch in the Konkan Railway. It will be a door to door truck service without using coastal highways. Oh so many carbon points too considering our noisy and polluting trucks will not use their exhausts along the coast.

Support Cruise Shipping With Multiplier Effect
Despite having a long and beautiful coastline, picturesque island territories away from mainland, many Indians spend valuable foreign exchange to go abroad to enjoy cruise holidays. This is very unfortunate. The potential is phenomenal if a fresh approach is taken to this aspect of tourism. Last time somebody took an initiative and introduced it around Kochi, it died a premature death. It was reported that the taxation policies were killing. A more holistic view and debate is required as an entire new cruise shipping industry can come up in India with huge downstream benefits in many sectors.

Create Manufacturing Opportunities & Innovate
We should aim to at least carry 25 percent of our EXIM tonnage on Indian flag ships built in India before 2025. This will create huge employment opportunities. We should innovate on our coastal shipping ideas and seriously examine RO RO ships and barges, which can carry loaded trucks along our coast. We must innovate and think of creating new islands with dredged materials, which can in turn create new cities and promote cruise shipping. We must support manufacture, repair and maintenance of our own ships as this will boost the economy to unprecedented levels.

Hope some of the above dreams will come true with the new leadership.