Harnessing Inland Waterways

As coastal areas have witnessed industrial and economic development, inland waterways can lead to industrial boom in the interiors of the country

Harnessing Inland Waterways

As coastal areas have witnessed industrial and economic development, inland waterways can lead to industrial boom in the interiors of the country. Ministry of Shipping is working on how inland waterways can ease out the cargo connectivity in the hinterlands. Mohd Mustaquim reports

The Ministry of Shipping has always been known for facilitating India’s exports and imports through deep oceanic waters. In fact, the country’s 80 per cent of exports and imports are transported through its ports and they are playing a crucial role in India’s social and economic development.

Going ahead from its conventional model, the ministry is giving a special focus to the country’s inland waterways. Being a country of rivers, it provides a good opportunity of developing inland waterways. In the coming future, these waterways can ease out the cargo connectivity in the hinterlands. As coastal areas have witnessed the industrial and economic development, on the similar lines, inland waterways can lead to industrial boom in the interiors of the country.

India has been a country of rivers and the Ministry of Shipping is now giving big focus to utilise its waters by developing waterways. The waters of India’s rivers are providing a cost effective and efficient navigation channel for small vessels and barges.

Only national waterways come under the ministry and therefore it works only on national waterways. It has notified five national waterways and the sixth one is going to be notified once the Parliament passes it. It is in Assam. The five national waterways are 1620 km long NW 1, Allahabad to Hadia in the Ganges. 891 km long NW 2, Sadiya – Dhubri stretch in Brahmaputra in Assam; 205 km long NW 3, Kollam to Kottapuram stretch is in Kerala; 1095 km NW 4 is Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh to Puducherry; 620 km long NW 5 is Talcher – Dharma stretch in Orissa.

NW 6, which is yet to be approved by the parliament, is 121 km Lakhipur – Bhanga stretch of the Barak River in Assam. It will ease the transportation of cargo and shipping in the North Eastern region.

Lots of developments have been done in NW 1, 2 and 3. Talking to R&M, N Muruganandam, joint secretary, Ministry of Shipping said, “The Inland Waterways Authority of India does the development and looks after the maintenance of these waterways and maintains the required depth of the rivers so that the movement of cargoes can go smoothly. As the execution, a project has been allocated for supplying coal from Haldia to Farakka NTPC plant through NW 1.”

However, passing through the waterways are not so easy. It has to face multiple challenges of bridges and barrages across the rivers.

According to Muruganandam, this is not a big challenge in the national waterways. But in the other places like Mumbai, Goa and others, the bridges are very low. There, they cannot operate a ship. That is a challenge. Mumbai and Goa do not fall under national waterways. NW 1 and NW 2 are alright. In waterways, the only problem is investment. “The initial investment has to be done by the government. It cannot be done through public-private-partnership (PPP) model. For operations, first you need a certain depth in the navigational channel. You require a depth and have to maintain it”, Muruganandam adds.

The ships, plying in national waterways, are called inland vessels. Normally, these vessels need a depth of five meters in navigation channel. In inland waterways, according to Muruganandam, they carry a lot of cargo barges. First, the government has to come and operate them and then private operators join the operations. The investment is very big. Earlier, they had plan size of Rs 500 crore. It is almost three times bigger now. Lots of investment is going to the inland waterways from the government.

Maritime and lighthouse tourism which is a common phenomenon in other countries, now India is trying to explore this opportunity. The ministry has identified many light houses across the sea coast of India. Many of the light houses are the very old buildings are located in the very good locations. “We are developing these light houses in PPP model. It is a very good concept. The Ministry of Tourism is also supporting this project. It will attract people and can become a good source of revenue generation, Muruganandam expresses.

Maritime tourism will attract the travellers, domestic as well as foreigners and it will provide employment opportunities to the people living in the coastal villages.

As far as ports are concerned, they are very important for economic growth. Unless, having good ports, the country’s imports and export will have problem and transportation cost will be increased. The country needs to have state-of-the-art facilities in the ports.

“If you have good ports, then your transportation cost will go down and your trade will increase. So that is what we are going to do. Where, there are good ports, lot of growth have taken place, says Muruganandam.

It has been seen that the ports play an important role in the development of industries in its nearby areas. They provide channel of import and exports for the industries. “If you talk about JNPT, Mumbai has seen a lot of growth in the past. Other important ports are Cochin, Vizag, Kolkata and Kandla, so lots of growth have taken place in these regions”, says Muruganandam.

The large and growing economic development of the country needs more focus, capacity and efficiency in the time to come. The ministry is enhancing its capacity manifold by upgrading old ports and developing new ones. In terms of capacity, the ministry has set a proactive plan till 2020 that is called Maritime Agenda 2020. The ministry currently has a capacity of around 2,300 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA). Now it has set a target of achieving three times more capacity of Indian ports under the agenda.

Muruganandam says, “Last year we added 136 million metric tonnes and this year we are targeting to increase 282 million metric tonnes. We will be able to achieve the vision of Maritime Agenda by 2020.”

On the efficiency part, the ministry is focusing on container terminals and sees a lot of growth in containers terminals. This year the ministry is going to develop some container terminals in Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), Diamond Harbour container terminal in Kolkata and Kandla in Gujarat.

Despite its ample coal reserves of estimated 283 billion tonnes, India just explores around 600 million tonnes annually and imports more than 100 million tonnes of coal every year to function its thermal power plants. Last year, India’s coal import was stood at 135 million tonnes particularly in west and east coasts. And therefore, the ministry is giving special focus to the coal terminals.

In terms of regulations, developing of ports has to face three kinds of regulations. On environmental side; it has to obtain environmental clearances. Second one is the security clearance and third one is tariff regulations. Tariff is regulated by an organisation, called TAMP (Tariff Authority for Major Ports). “Earlier TAMP used to take a lot of delay. Now we are coming out with the new guidelines, where we are giving some sorts of freedom to the ports and the PPP operators from the control of TAMP. They can fix their own tariffs with respect to the market terms. Earlier, TAMP used to do this. That will certainly ease the time, says the senior bureaucrat.

The ministry has been following the PPP model from almost 1990 onwards. But, in last five year or so, it has been working mainly through PPP mode. Almost 80 per cent of its infrastructure is being developed through PPP and remaining 20 per cent is done through its own resources.

“We give some assistance and the bulk of the work is done through PPP. In future also, we are going to triple our capacity and it will be done through PPP. Not only in terms of investment, its efficiency, management and all things is being done through the PPP mode”, Muruganandam says.

Crossing the traditional line and entering into the inland waterways and maritime tourism, can be recognised as a good effort of the ministry. Inland waterways can improve the transportation of goods and cargoes in the interiors of the country and uplift the economy in the hinterlands. The government just needs to take efforts and implement them in right manner.

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