Analysis of India’s Ocean policy against the backdrop of International Law

History of India’s Ocean Policy

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has been an essential territory for countries in the Asian circle for a long period of time. Throughout the Cold War, India focused on its northern borders with Pakistan and China, while its long maritime coastline was largely ignored. In 1960, the Navy’s portion of the defence budget remained at 4 per cent. During this period, India’s way to deal with the Indian Ocean Region was classified as “peaceful intersection”, which basically implied that except if the Ocean was compromised by an attack from an outside force, India would not effectively pursue any expansive strategy for the region. However, with the ascent of China and India as significant world economies, the Indian Ocean achieved an economic monetary significance beginning from the 1990s.

During this time, it was; India was establishing its first Indian Ocean foreign policy. The Indian government launched the Look East Policy under the authority of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, with the main objective of establishing economic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations.

With India’s developing economy ever dependent on the global trade order, the Indian Ocean turned into a significant maritime entry and security of key international shipping paths. In 2014, the Indian Ocean accounted for 50% of the world’s container traffic and 70% of the overall oil-based goods traffic. The Indian Ocean likewise has two significant straits through which huge amounts of oil imports are moved to India and China. For China, about 75% of its oil imports go through the Malacca Straits, while for India it is worth about US$ 200 billion or around 60% of its oil imports through the Straits of Hormuz. With China making heavy monetary additions or gains in Southeast Asia by economic investments and the Look East Policy’s inability to accomplish any economic gains between India and ASEAN, New Delhi required another foreign policy to continue the development of the Indian Ocean.

Act East Policy

In the course of recent decades, India’s Look East Policy (LEP) had become New Delhi’s key foreign policy strategy which was to be instrumental in the Asia Pacific region. Initially imagined as a system for closer economic relations with Southeast Asia, the policy has been instrumental in developing India’s political and economically linked in the Asia Pacific, polishing its qualifications as a predominant force of regional development.[1] When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed the name of the Look East Policy (LEP) to the Act East Policy (AEP) in November 2014, many claimed that it was a critical moment in India’s Asian policy.

As a political framework, the Act East Policy (AEP) tries to infuse power into India’s regional diplomacy, emphasizing New Delhi’s yearning for economic and security relations with its Asian partners. Although the Modi government continues to work out political relations within the neighbourhood of South Asia, the Act East Policy (AEP) signals a more proactive coordinated policy towards the Southeast Asian Nations Association (ASEAN). In looking for closer political collaboration with its eastern counterparts, New Delhi has extended the extent of its monetary and security scope over a wide segment in the Pacific, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Pacific Island states.[2]

India has attached great importance to the ASEAN region for many years given its close proximity to many important shipping straits such as the Malacca Straits. Maintaining the security of these shipping paths as well as maintaining navigational freedom in the Indian Ocean have been the most pressing issues that the Indian foreign policy has had to deal with in recent times.

An important segment of the AEP has been India’s oceanic commitment in the Asia Pacific. Through naval exercises, regular visits of foreign dignitaries, maritime activities, and oceanic limit building programmes partnered with naval forces, the Indian Navy has endeavoured to lift New Delhi’s international profile in Southeast and East Asia.[3] Customary warship arrangements in the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea have centred on the nautical aspect of the “neighbourhood-first” strategy of Prime Minister Modi, have achieved bilateral and multilateral maritime activities in the East Asian region, and have demonstrated the oceanic efforts of India in the Asia Pacific region.

Maritime Safety and Security Agreements

While there are some legal challenges to the geographic baselines along the coast, in many cases treaty boundaries have been defined between neighbouring nations and represent concepts of equidistance, equality, tradition and special circumstances. Disputes have in some cases been brought to one of the places listed in UNCLOS.

The IMO is an organization which ensures international standards and rules overseeing shipping activities of flag states, port states, and beachfront states all come under the purview of international shipping so as to secure against vessel-source marine pollution. The IMO likewise works with waterways or straits and archipelagic states to reach an agreement on the assignment of ocean paths in universal waterways.

The Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA) are developing laws which have been enacted to ensure the safety of life at sea and that have been enhanced and adjusted through resulting conventions. Most as of late, conventions to the SUA have been to address demonstrations of worldwide fear based on International terrorism.[4] The IMO likewise bolsters regional endeavours to advance oceanic security.

Lately, the danger of theft off the shoreline of Somalia drove the Security Council to issue a series of resolutions empowering a sea reaction and approving activities that would somehow or another surpass national authority as perceived by UNCLOS.[5]

The Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981 

Under the MZI Act, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was protected by Indians as well as foreign nationals on board a foreign vessel from the exploitation of living resources such as fish, which did not carry a valid permit/grant under the MZI Act.[6] The MZI Act also issued imprisonment, overwhelming fines and the confiscation of foreign fishing vessels prosecuted with unauthorised or illegal fishing offences. Hence, from numerous points of view, the MZI Act complements the Act.

Moreover, the MZI Act specifically grants power to the approved Government authorities, naval force and police to enforce and uphold the provisions of the MZI Act and powers were granted to arrest and seizure which is vested with the neighbourhood police authorities in the seaside states. Furthermore, contrary to the Act, the MZI Act does not require the government’s prior approval to initiate indictments for the various offences.

Although offences associated with poaching are dealt under the MZI Act and carried out under the Customs Act, there are offences, such as unauthorised research activity, acts scheduled to collect data on India’s security bias, unauthorised vessel operation in the seaward advancement region, and so on, which have not been secured under any statute. Likewise, the activity of remote ocean fishing vessels with the unfamiliar group have made our coasts helpless against odious exercises, which further stresses the need to make the MZI Act stronger.


While India’s Act East policy undertakings have been developing, its Southeast Asian counterparts presently can’t seem to achieve a minimum amount of standing maritime nearness. With New Delhi reluctant to be viewed as meddling in the contentions in the South China Sea, India’s oceanic chiefs have been unobtrusive with their warship organizations in the Western Pacific.

India, be that as it may, can’t be absent to the dangers presented by Beijing’s military on local security. China’s Indo-Pacific technique, truth be told, may hold some valuable pointers for New Delhi. As of late, Beijing has tried to use its Indian Ocean maritime nearness for political purposes. By conveying maritime resources in more noteworthy numbers in the Indian Ocean Region, Beijing has flagged its reluctance to acknowledge maritime South Asia as an Indian authoritative reach. India should now imitate the Chinese by embracing a system of counter-projection in the Pacific.

Other than raising the degree and nature of its sea commitment, the Indian Navy should guarantee secure and standardized access to refuel and resupply offices in the Pacific. Centralization of every single maritime action under the domain of an umbrella organisation will prompt improved correspondence across divisions and the usage of a more coherent maritime policy for the district. 


[1]India’s Asia Pacific Strategy Modi Acts East, available at: (Last visited on September 20, 2020).

[2] Huma Siddiqui, “India’s Act East Policy: Navy Destroyer INS Rana reaches South Korea, to participate in International Fleet Review”,  Financial Express, October 10, 2018, available at: (Last visited on September 20, 2020).

[3] Ashok Sajjanhar, “2 Years On, Has Modi’s ‘Act East’ Policy Made a Difference for India?”, The Diplomat, June 03, 2016, available at: (Last visited on September 20, 2020).

[4] The Role of the International Maritime Organization in Preventing the Pollution of the World’s Oceans from Ships and Shipping, available at: (Last visited on September 20, 2020).

[5]  United Nations Law Of The Sea Convention (UNCLOS), available at: (Last visited on September 20, 2020).

[6] Making of a Maritime Governance Authority, available at: (Last visited on September 20, 2020).


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