Ocean/Marine Management in India

-Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Research Fellow, IDSA


Ocean/marine management in India’s federal political structure is primarily carried out through the enactment of legislation by both the central and provincial governments. At times their differences in perception and policy lead to confusion, and even public disagreement, over critical development issues. A multiplicity of organisations and agencies; with overlapping jurisdiction, controlled by the central as well as the provincial governments, compound the problem. Nevertheless, attempts at overcoming such obstacles are become increasingly apparent, as in the case of the central government’s draft notification in 1996 on Ocean Regulatory Zones (ORZ). Although this is yet to be finalised, it can be seen as a major step towards integrated coastal and marine management in India.

Growing Maritime Interests

India’s dominant physical features and geographical location in the Indian Ocean indicate its dependence on the sea for both prosperity and security. India’s considerable maritime interests include a coastline of 6,100 km extending deep into the Indian Ocean, augmented by about 1,400 km of island and rock territories in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal (the latter comprising 723 islands and rocks of the Andaman and Nicobar chain). Virtually all of India’s foreign trade, some 97 per cent in volume, is transported over the sea; in 1994-95, this accounted for an estimated 20 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP). In addition, as much as 80 per cent of India’s demand for oil is met from the sea, either carried aboard ships (46 per cent) or extracted from offshore areas (34 per cent). In view of higher economic growth rates expected in the future, an increase in trade along with greater dependence on the import of oil from the Persian Gulf will take place. This will increase further the importance of India’s sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean, as well as the responsibilities of the Navy. In addition, the prospective exploitation of polymetallic nodules from the seabed could meet India’s demand for precious metals, as it currently imports all its nickel and cobalt, and over half its copper requirements.

Maritime Zones Act

In view of the prospective changes in the international law of the sea at UNCLOS Ill, the Indian Parliament extended constitutional recognition to the new concept of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in May 1976. As a result, Article 297 of Chapter Ill, Part XII of the Constitution reads as follows:

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury is a Research Fellow at IDSA.

Revised version of paper presented at the Third Meeting of the Maritime Cooperation Working Group of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP), on May 30-June 1, 1997, at Bangkok, Thailand.


"All lands, minerals and other things of value underlying the ocean within the territorial waters, or the continental shelf, or the exclusive economic zone of India, shall vest in the Union and be held for the purposes of the Union."1

Three months later, in August 1976, the "Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Maritime Zones Act" entered into force (with the exception of Section 5-ontiguous zone and Section 7 EEZ which entered into force in January 1977). This Act made provisions for 12 nautical miles (mm) of territorial water, 24 mm of contiguous zone, 200 run of continental shelf, and 200 mm of EEZ, dramatically increasing India’s responsibility from’ 83,200 sq km to some 2.2-2.8 million sq km area of sea, or about two-thirds of the total area of land.2 In December 1982, India signed the Law of the Sea Convention, and after it came into force in November 1994, and ratified it (along with the implementation of Part XI) in June 1995. Till June 1997, India was one of 116 countries which had ratified UNCLOS Ill. Moreover, the legal provision for the extension of the continental shelf to 350 mm by the year 2004, if preliminary exploration of the extended area is completed, is expected to provide an additional area of about 1.5 million sq km .3

Maritime Boundaries

In view of the Maritime Zones Act (1976), India. began to actively demarcate boundaries with its seven maritime neighbours. Till June 1997, 12 bilateral and trilateral agreements had been signed with five of its neighbours- Indonesia (1974, 1977, 1979); the Maldives (1976, 1978); Myanmar (1987, 1995); Sri Lanka (1974, 1976(2), (1977); and Thailand (1978, 1979, 1994, 1995). These include six agreements on the Andaman Sea, of which two are trilateral by nature: the agreement with India, Indonesia and Thailand (1979) on the determination of the trijunction point and the delimitation of the related boundaries in the Andaman Sea, as well as that with India, Myanmar and Thailand (1995) on the determination of the trijunction point of the three countries in the Andaman Sea.’4 As a result, the delimitation of India’s borders with four of these five countries is complete; the only exception, Myanmar, requires an agreement to determine its trijunction point with India and Bangladesh, which involves the resolution of differences over the principle by which the median line is to be determined, and the conflicting claims to New Moore/South Talpatty Island and the oil-rich delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers which flow into the Bay of Bengal.

In addition, lndia’s maritime boundary with Pakistan is yet to be demarcated. The problems lie over the determination of the median line, as well as the resolution of the Sir Creek area, a marshy, oil-rich part of the Sind-Gujarat coast. In 1994, India’s submission of "non-papers" to Pakistan included a proposal to begin the delimitation of the maritime boundary from the sea on the basis of the "equidistant principle", leaving the Sir Creek dispute for later. Pakistan, however, refused to respond.’5 Its publication of baselines moreover, has been challenged by India. At the Foreign Secretary-level talks in Pakistan in June 1997, it was decided that the Sir Creek issue would be discussed at a Joint Working Group, one of eight to be established between the two countries.

Department of Ocean Development

In order to effectively cope with the multiplicity of activities relating to the sustainable development of the Indian Ocean, the Department of Ocean Development (DOD) was created in July 1981. The DOD functions under the direct control of the Prime Minister, providing it considerable importance and prestige. The underlying philosophy of the DOD is the sustainable and environment-friendly exploration and exploitation of living and non-living marine resources for the socio-economic benefit of the country. The programmes and activities of the DOD involve polar sciences, marine living and non-living resources, marine environment and coastal zone management, ocean observation and information services, and marine research and manpower development. The budgetary estimate for DOD in 1997-98 is Rs. 105.95 crore (comprising Rs. 88.10 crore under Plan and Rs. 17.85 crore under non-Plan expenditure).’7

One of the acts of the DOD was to formulate the first, and only, Ocean Policy Statement (OPS) of the country. This was a major achievement as it attempted an ocean-wide perspective on its economic importance to the country in the. future; this also made India the first country to adopt such a policy, way ahead even of archipelago states such as Indonesia and the Philippines. The OPS of November 1982 sets out the basic principles through which the development of the ocean is to be carried out, along with considerable emphasis on the sustainable exploitation of both living and non-living resources of the EEZ. It advocates the control, management and utilisation of the natural resources of the sea through knowledge of marine space, along with the development of appropriate technologies. In addition, it stresses the importance of infrastructural support, as well as effective systems of management and control."8 Notwithstanding the strengths of the OPS in being simple and open, its major weakness has been poor implementation and enforcement over the years.9

Pioneer Investor

Two additional aspects of India’s ocean policy under the purview of the DOD merit attention. In 1987, India became the first developing state to be accorded the status of a "pioneer investor", which provided it an area of 150,000 sq km in the central Indian Ocean for deep seabed mining. In March 1996, India was also elected as a member of the Council of the International Seabed Authority under the "Investors Category."10


India maintains an active programme in the Antarctic. Since 1981, 16 scientific expeditions to the area have been launched; the most recent in December 1996. The first Indian research station in Antarctica, "Dakshin Gangotri’, commissioned in 1983, was replaced five years later by a permanent station, "Maitri". Following its accession to the Antarctic Treaty in 1983, India was granted Consultative Status the same year. In April 1996, India ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty."11




India’s mercantile marine lags far behind the requirements of the country. Notwithstanding the dependence on shipping, only 36 per cent of its foreign trade is carried on Indian bottoms. This includes just over half its demand for oil, as well as 26 per cent of bulk carrier and 21 per cent of liner cargo. The Indian merchant marine consists of some 400 ships, of about 6 million GRT (including nearly 5.5 million tonnes of overseas shipping). Although India stood sixth in terms of shipping tonnage among the Asian countries, it possessed less than 1.5 per cent of total world tonnage. The public sector company, the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) dominates the shipping industry, comprising just under half of total Indian tonnage. India possesses 11 major ports, 18 intermediate ports, and over 180 minor ports along its coastline.


About 10-15 per cent of the Indian population living in the coastal areas is engaged in fishing as the sole means of livelihood. The total catch of marine fish in India, estimated at 2.7 million tonnes in 1994-95, is far less than the estimated sustained yield of approximately 4 million tonnes in the EEZ. In view of the traditional non-mechanised nature of Indian fishing craft, the vast proportion of fishing is confined to territorial waters.12

The management of living resources upto the territorial waters is the sole responsibility of India’s provincial governments its nine maritime provinces and four union territories (comprising 59 districts) through their Fisheries Acts. The central government can only provide guidelines to influence their legislation, in order to ensure conformity with international norms and regulations.

Fishing beyond territorial waters comes under the jurisdiction of the central government’s Ministry of Food Processing (MFP). In November 1981, the Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act came into force. It laid down conditions under which foreign fishing vessels could operate in Indian maritime zones, clearly prohibiting fishing in territorial waters. Fines and other punishments to be imposed on those violating its provisions were also included. In view of protests from local fishermen, the government in early 1997 suspended the charter and leasing operations of foreign trawlers, as well as the granting of new licences to joint venture companies operating in the EEZ, thereby scrapping its Deep Sea Fishing Policy of 1991. However, this is not expected to have a major impact on the exploitation of marine fish. In early 1997, there were only 34 foreign trawlers licensed to fish in Indian waters, with an annual catch of 30,000 tonnes. Amongst them, 13 have ceased operations (4 on charter and 9 under leasing arrangements), while the remainder under joint ventures continue to operate under stricter regulations."

The Indian Coast Guard, established in 1978 as a consequence of the Maritime Zones Act, is directly responsible for anti-poaching activities in the EEZ. The statutory duties of the service stress the enforcement of legislation in India’s maritime zones. Since its formation, the Coast Guard has apprehended over 500 foreign trawlers, along with approximately 5,700 personnel, for illegally fishing in Indian waters. During April-October 1996, for example, it apprehended 25 trawlers of six countries - Sri Lanka (17), Myanmar (3), Pakistan (2), Indonesia (1), Malaysia (1), and Thailand (1).14

Marine Safety

Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in Indian waters are carried out approximately 15-20 times annually for ships, and about 100 times for other distress calls. Operational control of SAR activities is vested in the Navy, with the Coast Guard and merchant marine providing a crucial role. The two primary SAR areas of the eastern and western coasts are divided into five sectors, comprising Vishakapatnam, Madras and Port Blair on the east coast.

The Navy’s assets for SAR include the use of the long-range Tu-142M and II-38 Maritime Reconnaissance (MR) aircraft, based on both the coasts. At least one such aircraft is available at four hours notice to meet SAR requirements. Warships at sea within 300 mm of a craft in distress are expected to proceed to the search area, as are warships in port."

The statutory duties of the Coast Guard emphasise the protection of fishermen, including assistance at sea at times of distress, as well as measures for the safety of life and property at sea. During 1996-97, the Coast Guard undertook 77 SAR missions and saved 62 lives at sea."16 Till early 1997, a total of 668 lives at sea had been saved by the Coast Guard."17 In addition, the Indian Merchant Shipping Act (1958) places an obligation on all Indian-registered ships to render assistance to people in distress.

India has signed the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974. Although it is attempting to implement the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), it will be hard-pressed to do so in the short period of time available (February 1999). India has not signed the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) 1979, due primarily to the financial costs involved in the establishment of Rescue Coordination Centres (RCC).

Pollution Prevention and Response

The responsibility for the prevention of pollution is shared by the provincial and central governments. The pollution control boards of the maritime provinces/union territories work in close coordination with the central govemment’s Ministry of Surface Transport (MST) through the Indian Merchant Shipping Act (1958) (for control of pollution from ships and offshore platforms in the EEZ), and the Indian Ports Act (1963); the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MPNG) (concerning pollution upto 500 metres from oil platforms and structures); and the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MEF) Water (Preventtion and Control of Pollution) Act (1974) for the control of pollution arising from land-based sources with a jurisdiction of upto 5 km in the sea); and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), ‘in addition to the DOD.

Since 1993, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), not the MEF, has been directly responsible for pollution response measures. This was an outcome of the "Maersk Navigator" tragedy early that year, when a vast oil slick spread from the entrance to the Strait of Malacca to within 20 nm of the Indian Nicobar Islands. As a result, the Coast Guard was made directly responsible for combatting marine pollution. In 1996, the Coast Guard formulated National Oil Spill Disaster Contigency Plan (NOS-DCP) also came into force. This lays down a series of actions to be taken in the event of a major disaster of this nature. It also contains standard formats for reporting spills as well as forwarding data on equipment holding in the country. Since the late 1970s, the Coast Guard has undertaken 29 oil spill operations."18 It maintains pollution response equipment, and approximately 20,000 tonnes of chemicals. In addition, the MPNG also maintains minor stocks of anti-pollution chemicals.

Marine Environment Protection and Preservation

A critical aspect of environment protection and preservation relates to the regulation and prohibition of various activities in coastal areas. Major developments in this area are currently underway, which give rise to optimism concerning a pro-active policy towards integrated ocean/ marine management. Under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, the central government’s notifications of 1991 and 1994 declared coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters which are influenced by tidal action (on the landward side) upto 500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL), and the land between the Low Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL, as Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ), and thereby regulated activities such as the establishment of new industries, and the reclamation of land.19

On the basis of sustained interaction between the DOD and the MEF, these regulations, pertaining onlv to the inter-tidal zone an the land part of the coastal area, are being sought to be extended to include the ocean part as well. In this respect, in November 1993, DOD set up 32-member Expert Committee, chaired by Dr. A. Ramachandran, a former Secretary to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), to formulate guidelines for coastal zone management relating to the ocean. This commitee was to specify the limit of the sea to be considered under the new CRZ notification; identify various activities that could be considered for regulation in the ocean part of the coastal zone; and classify the ocean area for this purpose.

This Expert Committee primarily recommended to the DOD that (a) for the regulation of ocean-based activities, jurisdiction ought to be claimed from the baseline (normally the lowest low-water level) to the territorial sea boundary, and (b) for the regulation of various activities in the ocean part of the coastal zone, the sea ought to be divided into three categorie ecologically sensitive areas (category I), developed areas (category II), and undeveloped and. under-developed areas (category Ill), with consequent prohibited and permissible activities laid out.20

Consequently, in 1996, the DOD issued a draft notification, to be proposed by the central government, to extend the CRZ to the limit of territorial waters, and prohibit/regulate activities in conjunction with existing rules and notifications. This new categorisation was to be known as Ocean Regulation Zones (ORZ). Prohibitory and regulatory measures for the three categories involved ORZ I (critical habitats), ORZ II (developed areas), and ORZ Ill (undeveloped and under-developed areas) are to be enforced by the central and provincial governments.

Activities such as the reclamation of the sea for human settlement, the construction of artificial islands and other commercial purposes, along with the dumping of solid and toxic wastes, are to be prohibited in all three ORZ areas. Meanwhile, in the ORZ I area, activities such as the discharge of untreated and treated wastes, and shipbreaking (other than. beyond the no impact distance from the outer limit of the critical habitats) are to be prohibited. In ORZ II and III areas, activities such as waste disposal from domestic and industrial sources, and the construction of ports, harbours, breakwaters, and the dredging of navigational channels in major and minor ports and harbours, are to be regulated."21 At present, discussions are being carried out between the central and provincial governments, prior to the finalisation of the ORZ notification.

In order to implement the prohibitory and regulatory measures of both the land and the ocean part of the coastal marine areas, the provincial governments are to prepare Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management Plans (ICMAMP) within a period of four years from the date of formal notification. The ICMAMP is to be integrated with the coastal zone management plans prepared for the land part of the coastal zone in order to avoid conflict of use of land and ocean part of the coastal waters, and to achieve the overall goal of protecting and preserving the marine environment.

Law and Order at Sea

The maintenance of law and order at sea is a statutory duty of the Coast Guard, carried out at tirnes with the help of the Navy. At present, joint Coast Guard/Navy patrols are being undertaken to protect the south-eastern coast from armed infiltration (Operation Tasha), to curb clandestine activity in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar (Operation Nakabandi), and to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunition on the western coast (Operation Swan), following the series of bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993.22 The Coast Guard operates alone in anti-poaching, anti-piracy and anti-smuggling (drugs and narcotics) operations. In March 1997, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) seized a shipment of arms in the Andaman Sea destined for a militant. group in India."23 Actions such as this demonstrate the need for international cooperation against activities of this nature, especially in terms of intelligence-sharing and coordination.

Maritime Surveillance

The surveillance of the EEZ in peace-time is the primary task of the Coast Guard, in addition to its statutory duties. In view of the vast expansion of sea area, it is imperative to monitor developments closely. However, the current force level of the Coast Guard, comprising 11 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) (with helicopters), 23 Coastal Patrol Craft (CPC) and 18 Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC), along with 16 Domier Do-228 MR planes and about a dozen helicopters, is clearly insufficient to satisfactorily survey the EEZ of 2.8 million sq km. This would require a force level of at least 45 MR aircraft and about 70 surface vessels, as envisaged by the service.24 As a result, additional acquisition of aircraft and ships is expected to continue to take place in the near future. In the mean time, the Coast Guard chooses to maintain effective surveillance over certain limited areas of sea, where propensity for action exists. This could take place with regard to problems over the demarcation of maritime boundaries, or the statutory duties of the service.

The Coast Guard expansion plan of 1992-97 provided an outlay of Rs. 1,223 crore; for the 1997-2002 period it has sought over double the amount, a sum of Rs. 2,674 crore, in view of the increasing number and costs of the vessels and aircraft to be acquired. During this period, it plans to acquire 22 new OPVs and Fast Patrol Vessels (FPV), two hovercrafts, six surveillance helicopters and an undisclosed number of fixed-wing MR planes.

International Cooperation

India has ratified the Articles of Association of the South Asian Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which became a legal entity in January 1982. In March 1995, the DOD was designated the nodal Indian agency for its Action Plan. This plan emphasises the formulation of integrated coastal zone management, national and regional oil and chemical spill contingency planning, human resource development, and control of land based sources of marine pollution."25


Closely integrated ocean/marine management in India requires major new legislative enactments, and cooperation amongst organisations and agencies at both the central and provincial levels. Although the implementation of such planning appears doubtful at present, in view of India’s federal political structure and the number of organisations involved, crucial developments in this area are taking place. These essentially relate to the extension of regulatory zones of the limits of the territorial waters, with a possible area of impact even further into the ocean. It is very important, therefore, to monitor the progress of the draft notification on the ORZs, not only as a fundamental step towards integrated ocean/marine management, but as a potent symbol for the future.


1. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, "The Indian Coast Guard in the 1990s," Indian Defence Review, October 1993, p. 64.

2. The Gazette of India, Extraordinary Part II-Section 2, No. 49, May 28, 1976, and Notification by India of the Exclusive Economic Zone, January 15, 1977.

3. Department of Ocean Development Annual Report 1996-97 (1997), p. 22.

4. The Gazette of India, Extraordinary Part II-Section 3, No. 397, December 9, 1981; and updates from 1982.

5. See Rahul Bedi, "Not-so-Friendly Neighbourhood," Indian Express, May 15,1997.

6. R.C. Sharma and P.C. Sinha, India’s Ocean Policy (1994), p. 195. Also see, Vivian Forbes, "India’s Maritime Jurisdictional Claims," The Indian Ocean Review, December 1996, pp. 12-15.

7. n. 3, pp. 1 and 29.

8. "Ocean Policy Statement", Department of Ocean Development, November 1982.

9. "Voices for the Oceans: A Report of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans," The International Ocean Institute (India) (1996), p. 58.

10. n. 3, p. 21.

11. Ibid., p. 2.

12. See Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Sea Power and Indian Security (1995), pp. 88-89.

13. "Deep Sea Fishing Policy Scrapped," Maritime International, March 1997, p. 35.

14. See Ministry of Defence Annual Report 1996-97 (1997), p. 38.

15. See "Search and Rescue Organisations: India," paper prepared by the Society of Indian Ocean Studies (SIOS), New Delhi, for an international workshop on The Mitigation of Maritime Natural Hazards in the Indian Ocean, Mt. Macedon, Australia, October 8-11, 1996.

16. n. 14.

17. "Coast Guard: Striving for Excellence’, Sainik Samachar, February 1-15, 1997, p.15.

18. n. 14, p. 39.

19. Notification, February 19, 1991, and Notification, August 18, 1994, Ministry of Environment and Forests.

20. "Report of the Expert Committee on Ocean Part of the. Coastal Zone," Department of Ocean Development, February 1996, pp. 1-15.

21. Department of Ocean Development, Draft Notification 1996, pp. 1-9.

22. n. 14, p. 37.

23. Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 26, 1997.

24. n. 1, p. 65.

25. M. Sudhakar and B.V. Kumar, "A New International Order on Oceans-Indian Perspective," Current Science, September 1996, p. 437.