|Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss how Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is important for Indian security? Discuss India’s policy of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) for IOR islands. Conclusion. Way forward.|
The strategic importance of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is ever increasing to the world order in general and Indian sub-continent in particular. A secure IOR is key to ensuring security of India’s national interests. The importance attached to sea lines of communication (SLOCs) security was first seen in India’s stated aspiration to become a net security provider in the region. In 2015, India started SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) strategy, making it the cornerstone of his engagement with the Indian Ocean rim and islands.
Importance of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for Indian security:
- Energy security: Nearly 80% of India’s crude oil requirement is imported, which are mostly routed through the sea. Taking into account the total oil imports by sea, offshore oil production and petroleum exports, the country’s cumulative sea dependence for oil is estimated to be about 93%. Thus, IOR is very important to keep India’s oil route safe.
- Trade security: Today, almost 95% of India’s trade by volume and 68 per cent of trade by value are routed via the Indian Ocean. Any impediment to flow of commercial traffic would have disastrous ramifications on her economic objectives.
- Resources: India depends heavily on Indian Ocean resources for resources. Fishing and aquaculture industries are a major source of export as well as providing employment to more than 14 million people. Thus, securing presence in IOR is important for India.
- Security threats: Militarily, the presence of a long coastline makes India vulnerable to potential threats emerging from the sea. One of the worst terrorist attacks in Mumbai was perpetrated by terrorists arriving by sea. India’s nuclear installations, coastal cities are at continuous threat from state and non-state actors. Thus, keeping an eye on the sea is important.
- Piracy: The presence of non-traditional threats like piracy, smuggling, illegal fishing and human trafficking also present major challenges and hence, a secure Indian Ocean is key to securing India’s national interests. Multiple cases are reported in the past of drug smuggling near Gujarat coast, Mumbai coast etc.
India’s policy of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) for IOR islands:
- Safeguard land and maritime territories and interests: Enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories and interests is major focus under SAGAR initiative. India has held multilateral naval exercises called Milan in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with 16 other countries and in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). The success of maritime cooperative action against piracy in the Gulf of Aden is an example of the benefits of a cooperative approach which resulted in a dramatic decline in piracy incidents in the region.
- Deepening economic and security cooperation: The emergence of the Blue Economy promises a new pillar of prosperity in the region with immense economic and employment potential. It is important to engage with IOR in Blue Economy initiatives, particularly in the areas of marine bio-technology, exploration and sustainable exploitation of ocean mineral resources, sustainable fishing practices, and harnessing of ocean energy.India is committed to extending port connectivity among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and beyond.
- Disaster management: Promoting collective action to deal with natural disasters and maritime threats like piracy, terrorism and emergent non-state actors is a goal under SAGAR. India is proactive in providing assistance to littoral islands during disaster. This was seen recently, in India’s support to Madagascar which was ravaged by the Cyclone Ava. The Indian Navy and Air Force provided 1,000 tonnes of fresh water to Male to help Maldives which is suffering from an acute drinking water crisis. The Annual Joint HADR exercises, conducted by Indian Navy, help in India to connect with other nations.
- Working towards sustainable regional development through enhanced collaboration: India is targeting for re-energising economic activity in our islands and our coastal areas. There is a renewed focus on strengthening marine research, developing eco-friendly marine industrial technologies, promoting sustainable fisheries and ensuring the protection of the maritime environment.14 Coastal Economic Zones being developed under Sagarmala.
- Engaging with countries: Engaging with countries beyond our shores with the aim of building greater trust and promoting respect for maritime rules, norms and peaceful resolution of disputes is one of the goals under SAGAR. India is working on a range of projects to improve maritime logistics in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Other initiatives include the Kaladan transport project leading to Sittwe port in Myanmar, the Trilateral Highway to Thailand, and the Chabahar port project in Iran.
It is clear that, if India wants to become a serious Indo-Pacific player, it has to prioritise implementation of the SAGAR initiative. It is important for India to look beyond the Quad to partner with smaller littoral states and provide alternatives to China’s investment strategies.