Views of Jalaj Srivastava: “We are taking initiatives to develop and promote the IWT segment”

“We are taking initiatives to develop and promote the IWT segment”

The recent initiatives taken by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) to increase the share of inland waterway transport (IWT) in the total inland traffic in the country is expected to add a new dimension to the maritime sector. Speaking at the India Infrastructure Forum 2019, Jalaj Srivastava, chairmam, IWAI, shared his views on the government’s plans for developing the IWT segment. Excerpts…

Inland water transport (IWT) is a competitive alternative mode of transport to road and rail. 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.

Nevertheless, the government is making concerted efforts for the development of this mode of transport. The launch of the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) and the declaration of 106 new national waterways (NWs) are steps in the right direction and are expected to take the IWT segment to new heights.

The annual expenditure on inland waterways has been increased from Rs 4 billion-Rs 5 billion to Rs 25 billion. The government is also likely to release the draft policy on public-private partnerships in the IWT segment by June 2019.

Green mode of transportation: The reasons for developing the IWT segment

As compared to roads and railways, IWT offers lower operating costs and higher carrying capacity. While the transportation of goods costs Rs 1.53 per tonne km (tkm) by rail and Rs 3.01 per tkm by road, it costs Rs 1.12 per tkm by inland waterways. In addition, the carrying capacity of IWT is far more than road transport. A 10-wheel truck has the capacity to carry 16 tonnes of cargo, while 2,200 tonnes can be transported via a 40-wagon train. However, a standard IWT vessel has a carrying capacity of 2,000 tonnes of cargo.

Besides being cost effective, there is a plethora of reasons for developing the IWT segment. It is fuel-efficient; environment-friendly; provides intermodal connectivity, thus bringing down the overall logistics costs; requires minimal land/land acquisition; reduces congestion on road and rail transport; and has a minimal carbon footprint; etc.

NWs in India: The current status of IWT segment

The responsibility for development and regulation of inland waterways vests with the IWAI, which was set up in 1986. The authority undertakes infrastructure development and maintenance works on NWs, conducts techno-economic feasibility studies, advises the central government on matters related to IWT, and assists states in developing the IWT segment. Prior to the announcement of 106 new waterways, there were five NWs in the country. These 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)
  • 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)
  • 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).

In all, 111 NWs with a total navigable length of over 20,000 km are being developed across 24 states. Currently, implementation has commenced on 30 NWs, while detailed project reports are being prepared for another 50 waterways. This mode is suitable for the movement of bulk goods including coal, cement, mineral ores, stone chips, foodgrains, fertilisers, hazardous goods (including petroleum, oil and lubricants) and chemicals. IWT is also suitable for transporting over-dimensional cargo, project cargo, containerised cargo (to be transported over long distances), and automobiles for roll-on, roll-off ferries.

The game changer: Jal Marg Vikas Project

One of the major ongoing projects in the IWT segment is the JMVP, aimed at navigation capacity augmentation of NW-1, to ensure a minimum depth of 3 metres for enabling the commercial navigation of at least 1,500 tonne vessels. The JMVP is being implemented at a cost of Rs 53.69 billion with investment support and technical assistance from the World Bank. The main components of the JMVP are construction of multimodal terminals (MMTs) at Varanasi, Haldia and Sahibganj; intermodal terminals at Kalughat and Ghazipur; a new navigational lock at Farakka; and the construction of ro-ro terminals; as well as fairway development, and bank protection works.

The Varanasi MMT was inaugurated on November 12, 2018. The terminal, with a capacity of 1.26 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), has been built at a cost of Rs 2.06 billion. It is equipped with a state-of-the-art mechanised handling system and the major commodities that can be handled at the terminal are container cargo, construction materials, foodgrains and fertilisers. Besides, construction work on the Sahibganj MMT and the Haldia MMT is currently under way and as of March 31, 2019, the terminals have achieved physical progress of 80.44 per cent and 33.98 per cent, respectively. The Sahibganj MMT is being built at a cost of Rs 2.92 billion and has a capacity of 2.24 mtpa while the Haldia MMT is being developed at a cost of Rs 5.18 billion and has a capacity of 3.18 mtpa.

In addition, a new navigation lock is being constructed at Farakka at a cost of Rs 3.59 billion. As of March 31, 2019, the project had achieved physical progress of 33.29 per cent. The project is expected to be completed by June 2019. Work on the two intermodal terminals at Kalughat and Ghazipur is in progress and is 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.

Joining hands with neighbours: Indo-Bangladesh protocol route

The Inland Water Transit and Trade Protocol between India and Bangladesh allow inland vessels of one country to transit through specified routes of the other. The two countries have already commenced transshipment operations under the protocol. The key commodities being carried on the protocol route are fly ash, salt in bulk, rice, wheat, petroleum, oil and lubricants, coal, slag, gypsum, edible oil, iron ingots, cement, cement clinker and dolomite powder.

The maiden vessel reached Ashuganj port in eastern Bangladesh on July 16, 2016. The goods were then transshipped to Tripura. Further, cargo vessel movement using internal river ports commenced between India and Bangladesh on February 17, 2017. The first cargo vessel, Shonartori Nou Kalyan-1, arrived at Dhaka’s Pangaon inland container terminal at Keranigan from Kolkata on February 17, 2017, with 65 containers on board.

In a bid to enhance inland and coastal waterway connectivity for trade and cruise movement, in October 2017, the governments of India and Bangladesh agreed to consider the inclusion of Rupnarayan river (NW-86) from Geonkhali to Kolaghan under the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route. The two governments have also agreed to declare Kolaghat in West Bengal and Chilmari in Bangladesh as the new ports of call.  Further, Badarpur on the Barak river (NW-16) has been declared an extended port of call of Karimganj terminal in Assam and Ghorashal terminal in Bangladesh on a reciprocal basis.

In a noteworthy development, an inaugural cruise service between Kolkata and Dhaka was flagged off in March 2019. Heritage River Cruises Private Limited’s cruise vessel R.V. Bengal Ganga, arrived at Dhaka on April 6, 2019. It will further connect Dhaka to Assam via the Brahmaputra river. Meanwhile, a similar cruise service was initiated by Bangladesh which commenced in Dhaka and reached Kolkata on April 2, 2019. The cruises are expected to help both counties make optimal use of their inland waterways.

In sum: Challenges and the way forward

With the renewed interest in IWT and the recent plans to develop it, the segment has a lot of potential. Going forward, the new areas of growth that exist are fairway development, and vessel construction, manning and operations. However, in order to capitalise on these opportunities, the issues that need to be addressed are limited acceptance of waterways as a mode of transport versus rail and road, limited return cargo, lack of skilled manpower, limited private participation, and limited availability of technical think tanks, among others. The change in water depth during the monsoon poses an additional challenge with respect to operations and cargo movement.

To conclude, while the launch of the JMVP, the declaration of 106 new waterways and the impetus given to develop the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route are steps in the right direction, timely execution of projects will hold the key to development of IWT as a preferred mode of transport.