Inland water transport system in India: Potential and challenges
Q What is the context ?
- Month after setting sail on the Ganga from Patna, a vessel carrying 200 metric tonnes of food grains for the Food Corporation of India (FCI), docked at Guwahati’s Pandu port on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra.
- The occasion is believed to have taken inland water transport, on two of India’s largest river systems, to the future.
Q Why is a Ganga-Brahmaputra cargo vessel in focus?
- There is nothing unusual about a cargo vessel setting sail from or docking at any river port.
- This has rekindled hope for the inland water transport system which the landlocked northeast depended on heavily before India’s independence in 1947.
Q What is Inland water service a necessity for North East ?
- Seamless cargo transportation has been a necessity for the northeast.
- Around Independence, Assam’s per capita income was the highest in the country.
- This was primarily because of access for its tea, timber, coal and oil industries to seaports on the Bay of Bengal via the Brahmaputra and the Barak River (southern Assam) systems.
- Ferry services continued sporadically after 1947 but stopped after the 1965 war with Pakistan, as Bangladesh used to be East Pakistan then.
- The scenario changed after the river routes were cut off and rail and road through the “Chicken’s Neck”, a narrow strip in West Bengal, became costlier alternatives.
- The start of cargo movement through the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route is going to provide the business community a viable, economic and ecological alternative.
Q How did the water cargo service through Bangladesh come about?
- The resumption of cargo transport service through the waterways in Bangladesh has come at a cost since the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade was signed between the two countries.
- India has invested 80% of ₹305.84 crore to improve the navigability of the two stretches of the IBP (Indo-Bangladesh Protocol) routes — Sirajganj-Daikhowa and Ashuganj-Zakiganj in Bangladesh.
- The seven-year dredging project on these two stretches till 2026 is expected to yield seamless navigation to the north-eastern region.
- With this, the distance between NW1 and NW2 will reduce by almost 1,000 km once the IBP routes are cleared for navigation.
Q What are policies to boost Inland Waterways ?
- The Government has undertaken the Jal Marg Vikas project with an investment of ₹4,600-crore to augment the capacity of NW1 for sustainable movement of vessels weighing up to 2,000 tonnes.
- Sailors who made the cargo trips possible have had difficulties steering clear of fishing nets and angry fishermen in Bangladesh.
- These hiccups will get sorted out with time.
Q Why go for IWT?
- Inland Water Transport (IWT) is a fuel-efficient, environment friendly and cost effective mode of transport having potential to supplement the over-burdened rail and congested roads.
- It is a boon where road transport is least feasible.