Interviews |

Waterways: Coming of age

New Delhi, 26 November (G’nY News service): Mapping India’s infrastructure growth, in an interview with G’nY, the affable Union Minister for Shipping, Nitin Gadkari, shows a dream that can decongest most of India’s roads and provide a huge fillip to India’s industry through all round development of waterways.

 

G’nY. The present government has brought back the focus on the development of Inland Waterways in the country. What are the main reasons for this proactive attitude of the Government for inland waterways?

Inland water transport (IWT) is globally recognised as fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport. It has the potential to provide an alternative mode of transport. It also reduces congestion and accidents on highways. IWT mode has immense potential for passenger as well as domestic cargo transportation. Its systematic development would open up untapped economic and transport opportunities in the country. However, this sector has lagged behind road and rail sectors in the nation. The investment made in this sector is negligible as compared to other two modes of the transport.

Due to large network of feeder state highways, district roads and village roads, the potential of national highways is being exploited. However, absence of such a network for waterways has resulted in gross under utilisation of the potential of national waterways.

Since independence only five waterways have so far been declared as national waterway, each by a separate Act of the Parliament. To enable development of large number of waterways, the present Government has taken a major initiative and introduced a Bill in the Parliament for declaring 101 more waterways as national waterways. After Parliament passes the Bill, we will take expeditious and time bound projects to develop these waterways.

G’nY. Are you satisfied with the pace of development in the area of inland waterways?

Not at all. This sector has not received the importance and priority that it deserves. Inland water transport sector is practically insignificant today in the country with less than 1 per cent share in terms of tonne-km which is a great economic opportunity loss for the nation.

G’nY. Do you think that the target set by your government will be completed within the time frame, given the issues like environmental clearance, biodiversity being disturbed in certain stretches etc.?

We will be doing our best to increase the pace of development and utilisation of inland waterways of the country by adopting world class technologies, through funding from private sector and external funding agencies like World Bank. Inland Waterways Authority of India has already engaged a number of consultants who are undertaking feasibility studies for development of waterways. I will be working with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the concerned State Governments as well as other stakeholders in this regard to get results. We are also concerned with issues relating to environment and accord high priority to these. In fact water transport is the most environment friendly mode
of transport.

G’nY. Would you please highlight the initiatives taken by your ministry for promotion of coastal shipping and what is your vision for future?

The major initiatives taken in this regard include green channel clearance, priority berthing, incentivising modal shift of cargo such as fertilizers, foodgrains, marbles, tiles, sugar, edible salt and over dimensional cargo, containerised cargo and automobiles, scheme for developing dedicated coastal berths on the ports, 70 per cent abatement on service tax­—at par with road and rail, exemption from lighthouse dues, 40 per cent rebate on vessel and cargo related charges, relaxed manning and technical standards and customs and central excise duty exemption on bunker fuel. The Vision 2020 for coastal shipping in India proposes to bring into focus the development of cruise and coastal tourism. The other features of the Vision include coastal shipping as part of end-to-end logistics chain, integration of inland waterways with coastal roads and development of regional centres of coastal cargo.

G’nY. A decline in the performance of the ports has been recorded during the past 5-6 years. What steps have been taken to arrest the decline and boost the performance?

Yes, a decline is observed in the performance of major ports from 2008 to 2014 but the trend has reversed and in 2015 it has shown improvement. The profit margins and market shares of major ports declined from 43 to 28 per cent and from 72 to 57 per cent, respectively, during 2008 to 2014. Since the development of ports is important for increasing the GDP of the country, the focus of the present government is on modernisation of major ports and increasing their operational efficiency. With new initiatives the improvements have been registered in performance with the volume of cargo handled and revenue increasing by 4.6 and 8.7 per cent, respectively, in 2015. The initiatives undertaken to improve efficiency of major ports include delegation of more powers to major ports; capital dredging to 18 m through PPP mode in Mormugao Port; new scheme to assist ports to mitigate oil pollution; new scheme to set up coastal berths, passenger jetties etc; establishment of Indian Port Rail Corporation to focus on last mile connectivity and India Ports Global to take up projects abroad; and Sagarmala project to promote port led development.

G’nY. Is there a move to ask the ports to generate green power?

Yes, the major ports will generate 200 MW of green power which include 150 MW solar power and 50 MW wind energy. The port sector in India needs to adopt best international practices which include treatment of waste water at ports and use of bio-diesel to reduce air pollution.

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