Pune: India with a total estimated population of 1,392 million in 2021, has massive demographic challenges and opportunities going forward. Out of this population, 36.3% is in the age group of 20 to 44 years, looking for respectable career opportunities. Another 21.8% population will enter this age group in the next five to ten years. In terms of real population size, 373,772,951 young Indians are looking for respectable carrier opportunities. It is important to note that Young India today is aspirational, as out of the total population, the middle class comprises of 28% of the total population and 79% of the total taxpayer base. India’s working-age population outnumbers its dependent population, and demographers predict that this will continue until 2055. Young India has to be an integral part of the New India we aspire to build, otherwise the so called demographic advantage can become a massive challenge.
The Indian economy is looking up and in spite of the massive damage due to the pandemic, we have recovered well now and are on our way to retain our status of being the fastest growing major economy globally in future as well. The economy of India is a middle income developing mixed economy. It is the world’s sixth largest economy by nominal GDP and the third largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on a per capita income basis, India ranked 145th by GDF (nominal) and 122th by GDP (PPP). These statistics bring out huge unequitable economic growth and imbalance. Unemployment rate has remained at 7.5% and the employability rate is at 46.2%. The un-employability of the youth and the lack of career opportunities is a major concern and could become a demographic curse.
The 21st century has seen an overall shift in India’s policy outlook and also the global outlook towards India. Coherent policy initiatives and effective implementation on the ground have ensured a positive growth profile. The biggest shift has been the recognition of the maritime sector. Somehow, post-Independence, we as a nation became sea blind and completely undermined our maritime potential. Initially, the Indian Navy came out with their Military Maritime Strategy in 2007, titled “Freedom to use the Seas”. They kept on upgrading their vision document on regular intervals with latest being declared in 2015. The Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision declared by the Prime Minister in May 2015 has been a massive game changer on multiple fronts. It integrates the geopolitical and geostrategic realities to domestic requirements. The security concerns and the blue economic opportunities are comprehensively addressed along with the diplomatic leverage and reviving the rich maritime heritage.
The SAGAR vision has been backed by aggressive push by the Government of India to drive mega projects with massive human resource requirements. The Sagarmala is a flagship project to boost port led growth across the country, ably supported by the Inland Waterways project, with equally big allocation of funds. The Gati Shakti project will further strengthen these initiatives to bring multi-modal connectivity to seamlessly manage logistics across the country. There is substantial budget allocation from the Government of India to support these projects, led by the Ministry of Shipping, Ports and Waterways. Port management and navigability of the waterways are primarily governed by our ability to manage the sedimentation in our tropical waters.
The Deep Ocean Mission, led by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) is another mega initiative to support blue economic growth. Deep sea mining and the multiple other undersea resource explorations and exploitations have been the focus of the government for over two decades. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), on our request, has allocated massive sea areas to India for deep sea exploration and exploitation. These initiatives have significant strategic value for the country in the long run and India has to develop capacity and capabilities to manage such missions. The MoES also announced the Digital Ocean framework in 2021, at a preliminary level to make operational ocean data available to the nation for varied applications. Operational ocean data collection and processing is a complex and high-tech domain and requires substantial effort to build capabilities.
The Ministry of Jal Shakti was rechristened in 2019, from the earlier Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. This was an extremely progressive step to bring synergy among the multiple ministries and government institutions. Freshwater management has to be given top priority given the water stress and ecosystem concerns in the immediate future. Data reveals that freshwater shortage in the country could reach 20% in this decade. This could be a serious concern, given the rapid urbanization and population rise. One of the primary concerns in the tropical regions is sedimentation causing massive depletion in the storage capacities leading to floods during monsoons and water stress during the dry spells. The water availability in the river basin, flood control, erosion, drought relief and more, are again driven by the sediment management abilities.
The growing population in the country is putting stress on the available resources on land. We are increasingly looking towards the seas and freshwater systems for food security and energy security. The over 20 lakh square kilometers of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the reasonably large freshwater systems, present significant economic opportunities for us to build on. The present contribution to the Gross Domestic Productivity (GDP) can be substantially boosted with a nuanced strategic approach.
The enhanced maritime and ocean activities along with the freshwater systems, only point to the requirement of effective governance mechanism. The governance mechanisms are highly sensitive to the domain awareness. Better the domain awareness at an institutional level, better is the governance mechanism. The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework is inescapable, to bring about policy and technology intervention along with acoustic capacity and capability building. Young India cannot continue to be aloof to such a massive nation building requirement. However, appropriate skilling and knowledge based programs are required to bring them up to the required level of competence, to be able to contribute meaningfully.
Science and Technology (SandT) along with innovation will be the key to success. However, given India’s rich maritime heritage, traditional knowledge cannot be ignored while we are formulating the way ahead. Underwater Archaeology thus becomes extremely critical discipline of study and research. India is a large and diverse country with unique resource availability and specific needs across the nation. Deep understanding of site specific characteristics is required to manage such diversity. Start-up ecosystem is most suited for such requirements and could contribute significantly to manage the specific challenges and opportunities. The entire UDA framework can be covered by three specific academic programs at multiple levels. These include Underwater Acoustics and Signal Analysis, Blue Bio-Sciences and Bio-Technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics. These programs have to address multi-disciplinary aspects of Science and Technology (SandT), Management Strategies and Policy Frameworks. Academia has to come forward to introduce such programs and research institutes have to encourage Modelling and Simulation (MandS) based RandD, backed by field experimental validation. The skilling opportunities pertain to technicians to support the instrumentation required for operating, maintaining and repairing. The field experimental validation will need skilling for deployment specialists and seamanship efforts at a massive scale. Data loggers and data analytic specialists to handle underwater data will require customized skills.
The UDA framework as shown in Figure 1, can comprehensively address these aspects. The multi-disciplinary students, while selecting their projects across Under Graduate (UG), Post Graduate (PG) and even Doctoral (PhD) levels, can associate with one of the smaller cubes shown in the figure. These projects will integrate them with the stakeholders seamlessly and enhance their employability. Even entrepreneurs can find their innovative ideas from these small cubes and also directly connect to their application oriented deliverables. Young professionals can find their calling in the UDA framework to build their own entrepreneurial venture or upgrade their career profile. The government and other funding agencies will get better clarity on their deliverables across sectors. The Digital Ocean vision, catapulted by the UDA framework will bring transparency in water bodies and enhance governance.
We as a nation and its people, need to consider the underwater domain as a next big opportunity for nation building. The safe, secure, sustainable growth model, supported by the UDA framework is the way forward. Such new ideas need to be established in a nuanced manner and we would propose a three-step approach, namely, outreach, engage and sustain. The outreach will mean workshops and seminars to sensitize the stakeholders, policymakers and Young India about the challenges and opportunities. The engage is to institute UDA internships and fellowships at multiple levels for Young India to associate with and learn. The stakeholders and policymakers may sponsor such UDA fellowships on projects related to their application. The sustain will translate to undertaking comprehensive projects to bring about policy and technology intervention as required, supported by the policymakers and stakeholders.