Renewed Focus: IWT segment receiving greater government attention

IWT segment receiving greater government attention

Inland water transport (IWT) is a competitive alternative mode of transport to road and rail. With the growth in traffic handled by national waterways (NWs), expansion and modernisation of existing NWs and development of new ones has become important. A number of government schemes and initiatives have been introduced to propel growth in the IWT segment. The declaration of 106 waterways as NWs and the launch of the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) are major initiatives being taken by the government for IWT development and improvement.

NWs in India

Responsibility for the development and regulation of inland waterways vests with the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), which was set up in 1986. The authority undertakes infrastructure development and maintenance works on national waterways, conducts techno-economic feasibility studies, advises the central government on matters related to IWT, and assists states in developing the IWT segment.

Before the development of the 106 new NWs was declared, there were only five NWs in the country. In all, 111 NWs are being developed across 24 states with a total navigable length of over 20,000 km. At present, techno-economic feasibility studies have been undertaken by IWAI for the 106 new waterways and been shared with the concerned state government agencies for comments and suggestions and preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs). As per the DPRs completed so far, 30 NWs have been found to be technically viable. Of these, development activities have been initiated in ten.

As compared to roads and railways, IWT offers lower operating costs and higher carrying capacity. It is a fuel-efficient, environment-friendly and cost-effective mode of connectivity with minimal land footprint. This mode is suitable for movement of bulk goods including coal, cement, mineral ores, stone chips, foodgrains and fertilisers, hazardous goods including petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL), and chemicals. IWT is also suitable for transporting over-dimensional cargo (ODC) and project cargo, containerised cargo to be transported over long distances, automobiles and for roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ferries.

Government initiatives: Massive investments to develop NWs


The scope of the JMVP nvolves development and maintenance of fairway and key infrastructure facilities on the Ganga river from Varanasi to Haldia (1,390 km). The project cost is estimated at Rs 54 billion with 50 per cent loan assistance from the World Bank. The internal rate of return is estimated to be around 21.4 per cent. The scope of work includes fairway development, construction of three multimodal terminals (MMTs), two intermodal terminals, five ro-ro terminal pairs, a new navigation lock at Farakka, bank protection works, integrated vessel repair and maintenance complexes at Sahibganj and Gaighat, and installation of navigational aids and a river information system (RIS).

Under the JMVP, the Varanasi MMT was inaugurated on November 12, 2018. The MMT, with a capacity of 1.26 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), was built at a construction cost of Rs 2.06 billion. The terminal is equipped with a state-of-the-art mechanised handling system and the major commodities handled at the terminal are container cargo, construction material, foodgrains and fertilisers. Further, Phase II of the Varanasi MMT will involve works such as provision of rail connectivity to the Varanasi MMT, construction of a railway yard, stockyard, godowns and warehousing facilities, and development of a freight village in Varanasi.

Construction work on the Sahibganj MMT and the Haldia MMT is currently under way and is scheduled to be completed by May 2019 and December 2019 respectively. As of January 31, 2019, the Sahibganj and Haldia MMTs have achieved physical progress of 65 per cent and 31 per cent respectively. The Sahibganj MMT is being built at a cost of Rs 2.81 billion and has a capacity of 2.24 mtpa, whereas the Haldia MMT is being developed at a cost of Rs 5.18 billion and has a capacity of 3.18 mtpa.

Further, a new navigation lock is being constructed at Farakka at a cost of Rs 3.59 billion. As of January 31, 2019, about 32 per cent of the work has been completed and the navigation lock is expected to be completed by June 2019. Two intermodal terminals at Kalughat and Ghazipur with a capacity 77,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per annum and 1.2 mtpa, respectively, are also scheduled to be completed by November 2019. While the Kalughat terminal is likely to handle only container cargo, the Ghazipur terminal will handle bagged cargo and container cargo.


NW-2, with a length of 891 km, stretches from Dhubri to Sadiya on the Brahmaputra river. The infrastructure already in place includes two permanent terminals, 11 floating terminals and 1,102 day navigational aids. Dredging and bandalling works on the stretch are also carried out each year between October and March.

Many developmental interventions have been proposed for the entire stretch of NW-2. With assistance from the World Bank, the construction of MMTs at four locations, intermodal terminals at four locations and ro-ro terminals at seven locations have been planned. A first-of-its-kind ship repair facility, with an annual handling capacity of 147 vessels, is being constructed in the Northeast. The IWAI is also planning to improve night navigation facilities on the NW by installing an RIS. Other projects include establishment of a training institute in Guwahati.


NW-3 comprises six waterway stretches – Kottapuram-Kochi (30 km), Kochi-Alappuzha (62 km), Alappuzha-Kollam (76 km), Champakkara canal (14 km), Udyogamandal canal (23 km) and an extension from Kottappuram to Kozhikode (160 km). The stretch from Kottapuram-Kollam (168 km) comprises the West Coast Canal. NW-3 has eight operational terminals, while one at Alappuzha is nearing completion.


Phase I of NW-4, which stretches from Muktyala to Vijayawada on the Krishna river, covers a total distance of 82 km and is being implemented at a cost of Rs 960 million. The 233 km Phase II stretches from Vijayawada to Kakinada (Eluru Canal and Kakinada Canal) and Rajahmundry to Polavaram on the Godavari river. Dredging activity on the Muktyala-Vijayawada stretch, to be undertaken at an estimated cost of Rs 500 million, commenced in May 2017. So far, 37 per cent of the work has been completed. The hydrographic and navigational study for Phase II is currently in progress. The contract for work on four floating terminals has been awarded at a cost of Rs 58 million. The fabrication work for the terminals has been completed and installation is under way. Cargo movement through ro-ro services between Ibrahimpatnam and Lingayapalem started in March 2018 and about 320,000 tonnes of cargo had been moved till December 2018.


NW-5 connects the Brahmani and Mahanadi clusters with the Dhamra and Paradip ports, linking the industrial clusters of Pankapal with the Talcher coal mines. Phase I development of NW-5 comprises the stretch from Pankapal to the Dhamra and Paradip ports (201 km) while Phase II comprises the Talcher-Pankapal stretch (120 km). The IWAI has conducted preliminary studies for commencement of development works under Phase I. NW-5 also has the potential to be connected to NW-1 at Geonkhali (after the development of the East Coast Canal).


With a total length of 121 km, NW-16 stretches from Bhanga to Lakhipur on the Barak river. Development works under Phase I comprise dredging between Bhanga and Silchar (about 65 per cent completed), upgradation of the Badarpur and Karimganj terminals (technical assistance report submitted by Tractabel Engineering Private Limited) and construction of an MMT at Ranighat (Silchar) (for which land has been identified).

Issues and challenges

With renewed interest in the IWT segment, a number of areas of opportunity have opened up. Under fairway development, opportunities include dredging works and implementation and maintenance of navigation channels. The construction as well as operations and maintenance of terminals offer scope to contractors, developers, technology providers and equipment suppliers.

Two cargo-related issues faced by IWT are limited long-term cargo commitment from users and limited return cargo which makes transportation unviable in many cases. Further, private participation in creating, maintaining and operating associated infrastructure is minimal. For river engineering and related interventions, lack of skilled manpower as well as limited availability of technical expertise are key concern areas. The change in water depth during the monsoons poses an additional challenge on operations and movement of cargo.

That said, the government’s interest and recent plans to develop IWT in the country are steps in the right direction. However, the timely execution of projects will be critical.

Based on a presentation by Jalaj Shrivastava, Chairperson, IWAI, at a recent India Infrastructure conference