Big Opportunities: Inland waterway development will drive dredging activity

Inland waterway development will drive dredging activity

There exists huge potential for the development of inland water transport (IWT) as a competitive alternative mode of transport to road and rail. With the growth in traffic handled by national waterways (NWs), deepening and maintaining navigational channels has become important. In order to ensure the development of waterways in an organised manner, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was set up in 1986. At present, IWAI is managing a total of 111 national waterways (NWs), which are at various stages of development.

Dredging is a crucial element of fairway development, which is important for developing and facilitating IWT. IWAI has adopted various models to undertake dredging in inland waterways. These are through departmental dredgers with departmental manpower, departmental dredgers with outsourced manpower and departmental dredgers with operations and maintenance contracts, as well as through contract dredging by private dredgers. Recently, the authority has developed a new model for dredging – assured depth contracts, wherein the contractor will carry out initial dredging for an assured depth and will subsequently maintain an assured fairway to provide a navigational channel for a defined number of consecutive years. The model will be used for awarding dredging projects under the government’s flagship Jal Marg Vikas Project (JVMP). A contract for dredging along the Farakka-Bhagalpur stretch on NW-1 has already been awarded on an assured depth basis.

Dredging in rivers versus ports

Dredging in rivers/waterways is completely different from dredging undertaken at ports. Unlike dredging in the port sector, dredging in inland waterways takes place in scattered locations and along fragmented shores. Since river dredging is usually carried out in remote areas, there is lack of proper access and infrastructure facilities available at the river dredging points. Besides, in order to undertake dredging in rivers, small dredgers are required since inland waterways are typically developed with a 2.5-3 metre draught and a 45 metre fairway. Besides the size of dredging machinery, some of the other factors differentiating dredging in rivers from that at ports are frequent shifting and relocation of dredgers, limited work period due to tides, etc. However, due to the fact that contractors are unable to assess the differences between requirements in the two types of dredging properly, the execution of dredging projects in inland waterways has faced various hurdles such as arbitration issues, termination of contracts, and loss of value to contracting agencies.

Progress so far

Of the total 111 NWs, works are under way on five NWs while studies and other preliminary works commenced on another eight NWs during 2017-18. Besides, eight more NWs are planned to be taken up for development in 2018-19 and schemes for these are being formulated by IWAI. The JMVP was announced with a view to developing and upgrading the capacity of NW-1 between Haldia and Varanasi as per international standards. The project includes the construction of three multimodal terminals at Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia, each involving a cost of Rs 3 billion-Rs 4 billion; a new navigational lock at Farakka; fairway development; etc. These works are likely to be completed by 2020-21.

With regard to other NWs, IWAI has recently awarded a contract for quantity dredging to a joint venture between Vasundhara and Cleantec Infra Private Limited. Besides, two dredging projects – one at Sundarbans canal (NW-97) and another on two river stretches in Bangladesh (from Sirajganj to Daikhawa [175 km] in the Jamuna in Bangladesh [which is the Brahmaputra in India] and from Ashuganj to Zakiganj [295 km] in the Kushiyara river) – will be undertaken along the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route. The dredging works for the Sundarbans canal has been awarded while tenders have been issued for the dredging project in Bangladesh.

Issues and challenges

One of the major challenges in inland waterway dredging is the disposal of the dredged material. The dredged material is usually discharged in the rivers, about 500 metres away from the channel as allowed by IWAI. However, this practice has not proved to be very successful as it is objected to by the local fishermen as it diverts the flow of the river. Some of the other key challenges faced by the river dredging industry are bank erosion, limited working periods of dredgers, fragmented dredging areas leading to increased time for mobilisation/demobilisation of dredgers, difficulties in mobilisation of manpower and supplies, time loss in repair works, lack of bunkering and other infrastructure facilities, and restricted machinery size.

The way forward

Going forward, the increasing focus on developing inland waterways as a major mode of transport and logistics will open up a variety of opportunities for players in the sector. According to estimates, about 87.9 million cubic metres of initial dredging will be required on NWs by 2021-22. To ensure timely completion of these projects, IWAI is providing assistance to contractors in terms of providing relevant data and information on river channels, obtaining requisite clearances, and carrying out field inspections. It is also planning to provide assistance to contractors in solving the bunkering problems and issues related to manpower. These measures are expected to facilitate dredging projects on inland waterways.

Based on the presentation by S.V.K. Reddy, Chief Engineer (Technical), IWAI, at a recent India Infrastructure conference