Inland Waterways in India

Inland Waterways in India: A Background

  • Inland Waterways Transport is the transportation of cargo over rivers, backwaters, canals and creeks.


Advantages of IWT

  • IWT is the most inexpensive mode of transportation.
  • According to RITES Report of 2014 on “Integrated National Waterways Transportation Grid (INWTG)” the cost comparison is as below:
Mode Total Rs / Km
 Railways 1.41
 Highways 2.58
 IWT 1.06


  • Low Capital Cost: Unlike road construction or railway track laying, IWT is natural mode i.e. water flow.
  • Fuel efficient: 1 litre fuel can transport 105 tonne/km freight by waterways as compared to 24 tonne/km by road and 85 tonne/km by rail.
  • Low maintenance cost at about 20% that of road.
  • Besides IWT is environment friendly.
  • Inland navigation does not involve congestion, noise emissions, air pollution and other externalities.


IWT potential in India

  • India has an estimated 14500 km of navigable inland waterways, including river systems, canals, backwaters, creeks and tidal inlets.
  • About 5200 km of major rivers and 485 km of canals are suitable for inland transport.
  • However, IWT’s share in the cargo movement in India is less than 0.5%.



  • Compared to 8.5% in USA, 8.3% in China, 38% in Netherlands, 24% in Belgium and 13% in Germany.
  • 10% share of IWT in total transportation could reduce India’s transportation bill by at least Rs 10,000 crores.


What are National Waterways?

The principles for declaration of a national waterway are:

  • Capability of navigation by mechanically propelled vessels.
  • About 45 m wide channel and minimum 1.5m depth.
  • It should be a continuous stretch of 50 kms.
  • It should pass through more than one State.
  • It should connect Major Ports.
  • It should pass through a strategic region to provide logistic support for national security.
  • It should connect places not served by any other modes of transport.


National Waterways in India

  • As per The National Waterways Act, 2016, 111 waterways have been declared as National Waterways (NWs).
  • There were 5 NWs until 2016 when the Parliament declared another 106 waterways as NW across the country.
  • Out of the 111 NWs, NW-1, 2, & 3 are already operational.
  • Both cargo as well as passenger can ply on these waterways.



Section : Polity & Governance