India’s extensive inland waterways network of 28,511 km, spread across 14 states, remains remarkably underutilised. Inland waterways carry less than 1 per cent of the country’s total inland traffic. From 2010-11 to 2014-15, the total traffic carried on these waterways declined from 74 million tonnes (mt) to 29 mt. This drop can be primarily attributed to the fall in traffic on the Goa waterway and National Waterway (NW)-2 due to a ban on iron ore mining in Goa and Karnataka. In fact, combined traffic on the three operational NWs 1, 2 and 3, increased only from 4.92 mt in 2010-11 to 5.5 mt in 2014-15, a compound annual growth rate of a mere 3 per cent. During 2015-16 (till December 2015), the three NWs carried 3.38 mt of traffic. More recently, there has been renewed interest in the development of waterways, and that too on a much larger scale. A snapshot of key inland water transport (IWT) projects and initiatives…
Declaration of 106 NWs
The segment received a major boost with the passage of the National Waterways Bill, 2015, to develop 106 additional NWs. After the addition of these waterways to the existing five, the total number of NWs has risen to 111.
The new waterways have been divided into three categories. Category I has been classified as the most suitable for development and comprises eight waterways. Of these, consultancy bids for the preparation of technical, economic and financial feasibility reports for the proposed Sundarbans, Mandovi, Zuari and Cumberjua waterways, as well as bids for the detailed hydrographic survey of the Kosi, Gandak and Ghaghra inland waterways have already been invited.
Category II comprises 46 waterways in eight regional clusters, and the preparation of two-stage detailed project reports for these is under way. The remaining 52 waterways spread across 10 regional clusters are in Category III. At present, the feasibility studies for these waterways are ongoing, and the outcome of the studies will determine the viability of the waterways for further development.
Jal Marg Vikas
A major ongoing project in the inland waterway segment is the Jal Marg Vikas project aimed at the development of NW-1. Involving an investment of Rs 42 billion, the project is being undertaken with World Bank assistance. Three multimodal terminals are planned to be set up at Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia. A letter of intent for the Varanasi terminal Phase 1A has been issued to Afcons Infrastructure Limited. In March 2016, the World Bank approved the tender document and issued a no-objection certificate to the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) for the Haldia terminal. Subsequently, the IWAI has floated tenders for the development of the Haldia and Sahibganj terminals. The project also involves the construction of a new navigational lock at Farakka, at an estimated cost of Rs 3.8 billion. In April 2016, the World Bank approved the tender for this, and bids have been invited for the project.
River information system
In January 2016, a river information system was inaugurated to facilitate safe and accurate navigation on NW-1. The new system is a combination of modern tracking equipment-related hardware and software designed to optimise traffic and transport processes in inland navigation. IWAI is implementing the project in three phases. So far, the system has been made operational on a 545 km stretch between Haldia and Farakka, at an estimated cost of Rs 263 million. Work on the remaining two phases (Farakka to Patna and Patna to Varanasi) is in progress.
Development of NW-3, 4 and 5
There has been progress on the development of NWs 3, 4 and 5. The construction of a ter-minal at Alappuzha on NW-3 is near completion.
Further, Feedback Infra Private Limited has submitted the draft report for the development of selected stretches on NW-4 and NW-5 on a PPP basis. Meanwhile, 17 bids have been received for consultancy service tenders floated for the development of NW-5 under World Bank assistance, and bid evaluation is in progress.
Kaladan Multimodal Transit Project
An MoU was signed between IWAI and India Ports Global Private Limited on June 1, 2016 for implementation of works worth Rs 4.76 billion under the Kaladan project. These include development of container handling facilities at Sittwe and Paletwa, operation and maintenance of the completed works and removal of wrecks in Sittwe port basin area.
To conclude, timely execution of these development projects will be key to promoting NWs as an environment-friendly and cost-effective mode of transportation. However, there are still a number of issues that require redressal by the government. Some of these are inadequate depth of waterways, financial constraints, lack of night navigation facilities and inadequate intermodal connectivity. Only once these issues are resolved, can we hope to see an increase in the use of IWT in the country.