IWAI Perspective: Opportunities in inland water transport

Opportunities in inland water transport

Intelligent use of inland water transport (IWT) can go a long way in reducing India’s logistics costs from the existing 14-15 per cent of gross domestic product to 9-10 per cent. Various projects are therefore being undertaken to promote this environment-friendly and cost-effective mode of transport.

One of the key ongoing projects is the Jal Marg Vikas Project for the development of National Waterway (NW)-1 with assistance from the World Bank. Three multimodal terminals are planned to be set up at Varanasi, Sahebganj and Haldia. The letter of intent for the Varanasi terminal has been issued to Afcons Infrastructure Limited, while the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is awaiting a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the World Bank for the Haldia terminal. Tenders have been floated for the Sahebganj terminal.

Meanwhile, a navigational lock at Farakka has also been approved. The cabinet note for the transfer of 14.86 hectares of Farakka barrage land to the Ministry of Shipping (MoS) has been approved, and tenders are to be floated soon.

Under a tripartite agreement between the IWAI, NTPC Limited and Jindal ITF, a private sector company, coal movement has commenced on NW-1. Around 3 million tonnes (mt) of imported coal is being handled and transported to the NTPC plant at Farakka by Jindal ITF. Given the success of the project, a number of similar projects are in the pipeline, and are likely to be taken up in the upstream area of the Ganga river. In addition, there are huge dredging opportunities available on the Ganga river. IWAI is planning to shift from undertaking dredging on its own to outsourcing it to private players on a long-term basis. For this, the authority will enter into service level agreements or assured-depth contracts with the companies. One tender has already been floated, and others are to follow soon.

The passing of the National Waterways Bill in the Lok Sabha in the winter session of 2015 gave a major impetus to the sector. However, this bill is yet to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. The bill proposes the development of 106 new waterways, in addition to the existing five national waterways. These waterways have been divided into three categories on the basis of their economic viability and feasibility of development.

Category I waterways have been classified as those most suitable for development. This category has eight waterways under it, and tenders for these will be floated for undertaking development works once the bill is passed. Category II comprises 46 waterways in eight regional clusters, and two-stage detailed project reports for these are being prepared.

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The remaining 52 waterways in 10 regional clusters are under Category III. These are located in remote and hilly regions which are generally not economically viable. At present, the feasibility studies of these are ongoing, and these will determine their viability for further development.

Meanwhile, the development of a river information system for national waterways is also in progress. So far, the system has been made operational on a 560 km stretch between Haldia and Farakka (Phase I), and the remaining two phases are in progress and will cover a distance of 1,400 km up to Varanasi. The project is likely to be completed by end-2016.

Apart from cargo transport, national waterways are also being utilised for tourist cruises. Seven high-end cruise vessels, which provide five-star facilities, are operating on the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers. IWAI is also in the process of developing two circuits for promoting religious tourism, including Buddhist centres. w

Based on a presentation by P.K. Srivastava, Hydrographic Chief, IWAI