Views of Amitabh Kumar: “Dredging of inland waterways is expected to offer huge opportunities in the coming years”

“Dredging of inland waterways is expected to offer huge opportunities in the coming years”

The dredging industry has seen some positive developments in the past few years. The government has become more conscious about solving the long-pending issues of the industry with new policies and regulations, and programmes such as Sagarmala have also opened up opportunities for the dredging industry. Speaking at the ninth annual conference on Dredging in India, Amitabh Kumar, Additional Director General of Shipping, Ministry of Shipping, shares his views on the government’s initiatives for increasing dredging activity, the regulatory framework for dredging, the current fleet of dredgers, and the way forward for the industry. Excerpts from his address…

Over the years, dredging has emerged as a key focus area for the government. New programmes and schemes have been launched for the expansion of existing ports and the development of new ports and national waterways. However, increasing dredging activities also have adverse environmental consequences. While dredging is crucial for coastal infrastructure development, the need to be sensitive towards the environment and maintain the ecological balance cannot be ignored.

Coast-led development

There has been increasing impetus on coast-led development of late. Any activity undertaken on the oceanfront is subject to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which gives international ships the right to innocent passage besides according rights to nation states to exploit the ocean. The UNCLOS also mandates that nation states maintain the ecological balance. Within the broad framework of the law, a new concept of “blue economy” has emerged, which goes beyond shipping and extends to the exploitation of oceans for livelihood and resources.

The government is promoting coastal and coast-led development through its flagship programme, Sagarmala. The four pillars of the programme focus on port maintenance, new port development, coastal community development, and port-led connectivity and industrialisation. Two of these four pillars, port maintenance and new port development, essentially necessitate dredging, both capital and maintenance. Under the programme, six new ports and 142 maintenance projects at the existing ports have been identified for development. Another key focus area for the government is the dredging of inland waterways, and this is expected to offer huge opportunities in the coming years. However, the existing Indian expertise in the field is limited. Currently, there is ongoing debate on the applicability of port dredging techniques for river dredging in the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers where siltation is a major issue.

Dredger fleet size

At present, India has 28 registered coastal dredgers and 10 overseas dredgers with a gross tonnage (GT) of 172,764 GT and 64,663 GT respectively. In addition, there are some dredgers registered with the state governments as inland vessels. Further, the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) has a policy to issue special dredging licences (SPLs) to international flag dredgers. In 2015-16, licences were issued to 11 dredgers that worked on average for 183 days in a year with a cumulative total of 1,830 days. The SPLs issued decreased to six in 2016-17 when they worked for a total of 591 days, with an average of 98 days. In 2017-18, SPLs were issued to 18 dredgers.

Regulatory framework

With regard to the regulatory framework, the regulations applicable to the registration of any vessel are also applicable to a dredger. However, the DGS has mandated that dredging companies submit a stipulated number of documents and certificates for the registration of dredging equipment. Further, there is a dredged material assessment framework under the London Convention, 1972, stipulating the guidelines for suitability of the dredged material for disposal at sea. In India, the right of first refusal is followed. Local dredging companies have the right to match the lowest rate offered by a foreign flag in tenders issued by ports. Typically, the Indian dredger has to provide a financial quote within a range of ±10 per cent of the foreign dredger, failing which the foreign dredger is awarded the contract. Besides meeting these regulatory requirements, other environmental surveys also need to be undertaken prior to dredging.

The way forward

With the government’s renewed focus on coastal infrastructure development, dredging will continue to be a mainstay activity. While seaport dredging has been developed to a great extent in the country, dredging in inland waterways is an emerging area. Streamlining of documentation and registration requirements for dredgers is imperative. Besides, maintenance and capital dredging, cleaning up dredging which is also important for maintaining the required depth in waterbodies, needs to be incorporated in the dredging guidelines. Going forward, immense opportunities exist in the segment, given the impetus that the government is providing through its various programmes.