New Delhi, August 7 (G’nY News Service): Post –independence India has neglected inland waterways, in spite of our vast network of rivers, lakes, backwaters and lagoons. The recent initiative of the central government to link 101 waterways and build an integrated transport grid involving existing rail and links should serve in building a green, sustainable and cheaper alternative for commuters in India.
Ancient civilisations are known to have always thrived in river valleys. The Mesopotamian civilization arose in the Tigris-Euphrates valley (3300-2000 BC), the Egyptian in the Nile valley (3200-1000 BC), the Harappan in the Indus valley (3200-1300 BC) and the Chinese along the Yellow River valley (2000-200 BC) in times past.
These ancient people were proficient in inland navigation, thus proving that rivers played an important part in the sustenance, development and growth of mankind. To facilitate trade and transportation, many ancient cities and industrial towns were established along rivers and their tributaries.
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In India, the Ganges, Yamuna, Brahmaputra and the Indus waterway played an important role in inland navigation for the transport of goods inland from the sea and vice-versa, with trade world-wide thriving along sea routes in the pre-independence era.
However, post-independence, development of Inland Water Transport (IWT) has been totally neglected by successive governments at the centre and states.
Transportation using inland navigation is fuel- efficient, cheap and environment friendly. It can also act as an alternate and supplementary mode of transportation in certain conditions. Yet, the modal share of inland water transport in India, as per data provided by the Ministry of Shipping, is 0.4 per cent, as compared to 42 per cent in the Netherlands, 8.7 per cent in China and over 8 per cent in the USA. India has a large number of inland waterways consisting of rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks and lakes, all of which can contribute to the development of an efficient waterways transport network. Sadly, the development of inland water transport has been marred by many bottle necks, especially as regards to budgetary support and the mindset of the erstwhile planning commissions and governments who have failed to recognize its potential in years to come.
As per the report of the National Transport Development Policy Committee (1980), 14,500 km of rivers, inland waters, creeks and lakes have been identified for development as National Waterways. The Inland Waterway Authority of India (IWAI) was set up on October 27, 1986, by an Act of Parliament. Thereafter, the government declared the first National Waterway of the countery, the National Waterway No.1 (NW-1) that encompasses the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system from Haldia to Allahabad (1620 km) in 1986. Similarly, other national waterways also came up eventually; NW-2 in the Brahmaputra from Dhubri to Sadiya (891 km) in 1988, and NW-3 in the West Coast Canal from Kottapuram to Kollam along with Champakara and Udyogmandal canals (205 km) in 1993.
Later in 2008, NW-4 was declared by integrating the Kakinada-Puducherry canals Godavari and Krishna rivers (1095 km). The NW-5 was also declared in 2008 after integrating the East Coast Canal along river Brahmani and Mahanadi (621 km). Thus, a total of 4,432 km have been declared as NWs, for being developed, maintained and regulated for the promotion of IWT. However, the proposed stretch of 121 km from Bhanga to Lakhipur on the Barak river has not yet been declared as a NW due to the lack of initiative by earlier governments.
Under the present government at the centre, a Ganga Jal MargVikas (GJMV) project funded by the World Bank is also being implemented through a Project Management Unit (PMU) set up under the IWAI. Various infrastructural elements have been bolstered, including terminals, fairways, navigation aids, rail/road connectivity, Differential Global Positioning System, River Information System, a 3 –metre Least Available Depth (LAD), etc., to facilitate safe navigation of vessels and barges ( of sizes up to 1500 ton ) on the NW-1.
This should augur a more sustainable, cheaper and greener alternative mode of transport for many.
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The ministry of shipping and IWAI have been jointly organising a number of road shows to invite stake holders for participation in dredging, shipbuilding, barge operations and terminal management. A proposal to set up an Integrated National Waterways Transport Grid (INWTG) for the development of the five National Waterways with at least 2.5 meter LAD, upgrading/setting up of 31 priority terminals, establishing road/rail connectivity and where feasible, rail and port connectivity has also been made. With the establishment of the INWTG, the National Waterways can be connected to National/ State Highways and could moulded into an integral part of the country’s multimodal transportation grid..
It is heartening to know that the Modi government has already given its approval for enacting a legislation to declare 101 waterways as national waterways for navigation. Once these waterways are declared NWs, these could further develop through intermodal connectivity (rail, road and waterway), opening up business opportunities in the areas of dredging, hydrographic surveys, barge construction, barge operation, barges repair facilities, terminal construction, logistics hubs, navigation aids, fairway, and Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS).
In addition to facilitating IWT, along with tourism and passenger services, the waterways can create many opportunities for employment and economic development of regions. They can also ease our transport networks at least cost and minimum pollution.
In line with the Prime Minister’s Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), these 101 waterways could be developed and maintained by the state/district/local administration for the sustainable development and employment of local populations. For this, the ministry of shipping will need to engage suitable consultants to design affordable and economical river vessels, terminals, building/repair yards using subsidies to encourage local industry and provide employment to locals. Waterways passing through major cities can also be additionally developed for recreational and water sports facilities, and the operation of hovercrafts and other special utility water vessels.
To release the vast potential in inland and coastal water transport, dedicated berths in each major port need to be provided for River-Sea Vessels. Simplification of examination procedures and issuance of certificate of competency under Inland Vessels Act 1917 will also have to be devised and implemented by the Ministry/IWAI/Directorate General of Shipping. Recruitment Rules of IWAI will need revision for the recruitment, training and promotion of River/Hydraulics Engineers, Mariners, Engineers, Hydrographers, Cartographers and Dredging personnel. Training in IWT at the National Institute of Inland Navigation (NINI), Patna and in other riverine states to meet the human resources development (HRD) of waterways will have to be augmented with trained and experienced faculty, as also simulators for Inland Vessel operations and waterway management.
There is a strong need to establish a state- of- the- art research and study centre to undertake research and study on IWT projects, waterways, ship building, terminals, barges, dredgers, fairway, and buoyage, as also advise the Ministry/States/IWAI/NINI on innovative IWT training and techniques that are on par with USA, China, EU and other nations that operate successful waterways all over the world .
With India embarking on a much-needed path of modernizing its waterways and augmenting water transport, it is time that all stake holders come forward and join hands to develop the right infrastructure, and help in the management of services to facilitate growth in this sector.
The recent move by the central government to develop inland waterways is in the right direction. However, this can succeed only if this is accompanied by administrative initiatives such as providing dedicated berths for riverine vessels at existing ports, and easy certification and registration for smooth running of services. Riverine transport also needs to be linked to marine and coastal movement of vessels, so that movement of goods and services from the coast to the hinterland becomes profitable for stakeholders.About the author – Dr. Gayad S Inda retired as the Hydrographic Chief of the Inland Waterways Authority of India. Currently, he is the Senior Vice President of the Institution of Surveyor.