Tapping Potential: Government taking initiatives to boost inland waterways transport

Government taking initiatives to boost inland waterways transport

Despite an extensive inland waterways network of about 20,000 km, the potential of this relatively cheap and green mode of transport is yet to be fully exploited. The total cargo transported by inland waterways is less than 1 per cent of the total inland traffic in the country. This is despite the large potential that exists for cost savings by using this mode of transport. Nevertheless, the government is making concerted efforts for inland water transport (IWT) development. Various projects such as the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP), the declaration of 111 national waterways (NWs), etc., are set to change the face of this mode of transport in the country.

Current status

The central government has declared 106 new waterways as NWs in addition to the existing five waterways. Of these, operations have commenced on NWs 1, 2 and 3, while NWs 4 and 5 are still at the development stage. During 2016-17, the combined traffic on the three operational NWs was 4.69 million tonnes (mt), compared to 7.9 mt during 2015-16, registering a year-on-year decline of 29.24 per cent.

The five waterways are:

  • NW-1: Allahabad-Haldia stretch of the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system (1,620 km)
  • NW-2: Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river (891 km)
  • NW-3: West coast canal from Kottapuram to Kollam, along with the Udyogmandal and
  • Champakara canals (365 km) (including the extension given in April 2016 from the earlier 205 km). Around 1 mt of cargo and around 25,000 million twenty-foot equivalent units (till March 31, 2017) have been shifted from the congested Kochi roads to waterways through roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) services between Bolgatty and Willingdon Islands.
  • NW-4: The Kakinada-Puducherry stretch of canals and the Kaluvelly tank, the Bhadrachalam-Rajahmundry stretch of the Godavari river and the Wazirabad-Vijayawada stretch of the Krishna river (1,095 km) (including the extension given in April 2016 from the earlier 1,078 km). Dredging works on the Muktyala and Vijayawada stretch of NW-4 (Rs 500 million) commenced in May 2014 and the contract for four floating terminals at a cost of Rs 58 million has also been awarded. Meanwhile, the proposal for setting up of a special purpose vehicle by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and the Andhra Pradesh government for the development of NW-4 is presently under consideration.
  • NW-5: The Talcher-Dhamra stretch of the Brahmani river, the Geonkhali-Charbatia stretch of the East Coast Canal, the Charbatia-Dhamra stretch of the Matai river and the Mangalgadi-Paradip stretch of the Mahanadi delta rivers (588 km). Meanwhile, the stretch between Pankapal and the Dhamra and Paradip ports has been planned to be taken up for development under Phase I in the near future.

Jal Marg Vikas Project

One of the major ongoing projects in the sector is the JMVP, aimed at the development of NW-1. The project involves the development of the stretch between Allahabad and Haldia on the Ganga river, with a minimum depth of 3 metres, enabling commercial navigation of at least 1,500 tonne vessels. The project aims to provide an environment-friendly, fuel-efficient and cost-effective alternative mode of transportation, especially for bulk goods, hazardous goods and overdimensional cargo on NW-1. Involving an investment of Rs 53.69 billion, the project is being undertaken with technical and financial assistance of the World Bank. The IWAI has been entrusted with project implementation.

The main components of the JMVP are the construction of multimodal terminals (MMTs) at Varanasi, Haldia and Sahibganj; intermodal terminals at Kalughat and Ghazipur; a new navigational lock at Farakka; fairway development; bank protection works; and the construction of ro-ro terminals, among others.

National Waterways Act, 2016

In 2016, the government declared 106 new NWs, in addition to the five existing NWs, under the National Waterways Act, 2016. The IWAI has started preparatory works for converting 106 rivers into NWs by making them navigable. These waterways have been divided into three categories on the basis of their economic viability and feasibility of development. Category I involves the development of eight waterways that have been classified as the most suitable for development. The development/tendering activities for these eight NWs were initiated during 2017-18.

Further, under Category II, the development of 46 waterways in eight regional clusters will be taken up. The remaining 52 waterways are spread across 10 inaccessible and hilly regional clusters and fall under Category III.

The way forward

With renewed interest in IWT and recent plans to develop it, the segment has a lot of potential. Going forward, opportunities/new areas of growth which exist are fairway development, terminal development, and vessel construction, manning and operations.

However, in order to capitalise on the opportunity, the issues which need to be addressed are limited long-term cargo commitment from users, limited return cargo, a lack of awareness related to transportation through waterways, minimal private participation in creating, maintaining and operating associated infrastructure, a lack of skilled manpower, and the limited availability of technical think tanks for river engineering and related interventions, among others.

So far, the inland waterways segment has received limited attention despite being the most cost-effective and environment-friendly mode of transportation.

The development of waterways is expected to provide significant benefits by reducing road congestion, providing a cheaper mode of passenger transport, reducing logistics costs in cargo movement, as well as developing adjoining areas.

Based on a presentation by Alok Ranjan, Member, Finance, IWAI, at a recent India Infrastructure conference