New Delhi, 26 November (G’nY News service): Post-Independence, the focus of the nation has been on a faster and more modern mode of transport, rail network, industrial development, power generation and so on. During the last 68 years, we have made substantial progress in power generation and irrigation infrastructure, agriculture production, road and rail connectivity but unwittingly exploitation of the potential of navigation on our rich inland waterways system got ignored. It is almost 39 years after Independence in 1986 that the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was set up for developing the national waterways for navigation. However, this sector got a major boost when the present government announced its intention to develop 101 new national waterways with road, rail and port connectivity, wherever feasible, for the promotion of cheaper and environment friendly supplementary mode of transportation. IWAI is already working on this plan. So far in the last 29 years of IWAI, only five waterway stretches have been declared as national waterways and a meagre amount of INR 1117 crore has been spent in 25 years between 1986 to 2010 as against China spending INR 78,000 crore in just five years between 2005 and 2010.
Due to the enormous delays in conducting pre-feasibility and techno-economic feasibility status, difficulties in land acquisition, coordination with state governments and highly inadequate availability of funds only five national waterways could be declared in the past 30 years. To overcome these delays and to accelerate the development of inland water transport, it has been decided to accord the status of national waterways to navigable water bodies in consultation with states and simultaneously take up techno-eco feasibility studies on each. Depending on the outcome of the studies, a suitable development module will be worked out for the development of fairways, navigation aids and terminal facilities, etc., through a mix of budgetary resources, multilateral funding, public-private partnerships, joint ventures, etc.
The construction of structures, in the zeal to provide road/ rail connectivity, irrigation facilities, power, etc., in and across the waterways without navigation locks and without leaving sufficient vertical and horizontal clearance for navigation, has led to increased costs and time in developing these waterways. We have to modify structures; demolish and reconstruct these in some cases. State governments have to be on board. We are looking at a water draft of 2.5 to 3 m. We are also looking at the best design and combination of vessels which can carry a larger load in lesser draft. We have electronic navigation charts in waterways. We also have differential global positioning systems (DGPS) installed in National Waterways 1 and 2 and River Information System in NW-1.
Based on the data available on navigable waterways, and after consultations with the state governments, 106 water bodies are proposed to be declared as national waterways. Some of these have very good potential and we are preparing tender documents for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts for developing the fairway and constructing terminals in eight of these waterways, post declaration. For 47 waterways, we have already appointed consultants for doing a feasibility study and engineering design. For the remaining 51, we are focusing on feasibility studies alone. Reports will be with us from January, 2016 onwards.
Water happens to be a state subject and, therefore, extensive cooperation of states would be required to make inland waterways a successful venture. In order to have proper coordination for development of inland waterways there is a need to establish IWT directorates by the state governments. Central Government would urge the state governments to give incentives to industries to encourage them for setting up industrial units near river banks for cheaper transportation of goods on waterways. China’s example will be handy here where most industries are located on the banks of rivers. Further, the states need to undertake dredging operations in rivers to maintain the required flow and depth for navigation. River tourism has a great potential in the country and inland waterways could be just the right recipe for it.
IWAI is looking at enhanced budgetary support and funding from the likes of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). We are also promoting river cruises and exploring public-private partnerships and tying up long term contracts for transportation through the waterways, similar to the one worked out successfully for the NTPC Super Thermal Power Plants at Farakka and Barh. I am sure that due to the high rate of growth of the Indian economy and increasing congestion on road and rail network a cheaper and environment friendly mode of IWT will definitely succeed in India.
Amitabh Verma is Chairman, Inland Waterways Authority of India, Government of India. firstname.lastname@example.org