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By Sea and Coast | 04/12/2020

India’s Sunrise sector- the Inland Waterways

India’s geographical feature that embodies 7516 km long coastline and around 14,500 kilometers of navigable inland waterways comprising of extensive network - in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks - has been undermined since time immemorial but in last 6-7 years there has been significant advancements in the field. In 2016 under National Waterways Act, 106 more inland national waterways in India were created for the purpose of inland transport; conclusively taking number to 111. Prior to 2016, there were 5 National Waterways namely NW1, NW22, NW3, NW4 & NW5. Why inland transport is important to India? Efficient logistic cost, the need of the hour to address climate change and the ruckus and pressure on the roadways and railways that results in the forfeit of 70000-80000 crores per annum in the form of accidents.


Logistic cost plays a vital role in the economic standing of a nation and when we dive deep into the logistic cost, the integrated transport and the complementarity of roadways, waterways, and railways to each other is the protagonist. The logistic cost in India accounts to 14-15% while in countries like US, Vietnam it is around 7-8%. The key to this impressive figure lies in the sustainable use of available resources. Water based transportation of domestic cargo through both coastal shipping and inland waterways is mere 7% in India (2% inland waterways) while it is approximately nine times higher in China, five times higher in Japan and twice as high in the USA as compared to our country. When it comes to the shipment of cargo, waterways deliver it more efficiently with an operative cost of 1.19 INR per km per ton and railways around 2 INR per km per ton and highways operating at as high as 3-4 INR per km per ton as per the study of World Bank.

The inland waterways are not limited to low operative cost, minimal impact on environment but also ensures the maximization of the financial standings on it as on an average, any waterways project utilizes 5% of the amount on land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement and 95% of the investment in technical framework, infrastructure and modularity as compared to roadways which encompasses its 55% holdings in land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement and only 45% on the technicality of the project.

In India, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) came into existence on 27 th October, 1986 for development and regulation for inland waterways for shipping and navigation but there have been negligible investment of 1177 crores during the period 1986-2010. In 2014-15, Shri Arun Jaitley then finance minister of India allotted a total planned budget of 899 crores to the Ministry of Shipping of which Inland Transport had a share of 183 crores. One of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s Project is to promote transportation and religious tourism via inland waterways for the greatest number of religious pilgrimages and destinations are situated by the river coasts especially along the Ganga river. IWAI launched a Rs 5,369- crore Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) in July 2018 with technical and financial assistance of World Bank on National Waterway 1 that came into official notification in 1986 runs from Haldia (Sagar) to Prayagraj across the Ganges, Bhagirathi and Hooghly river systems. With the facilitation, renewed emphasis and combined efforts of IWAI with Ports and State Governments, the cargo movement on National Waterways 1 has reached 7 million metric tonnes (mmt) in 2019-20 and is poised to grow to a mark of 27 million metric tonnes per annum by 2023 under the National Waterways Development Project.

Under JMVP, three Multi Modal Terminals (MMT) with the terminal capacity of 1.26 MPTA are proposed in Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia of which two have been built and inaugurated by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on the Ganga River aimed at stretching the business corridor between Varanasi and Haldia enabling navigation of vessels weighing up to 1500-2000 tonnes. The first MMT in Varanasi built at a cost of Rs.506 crores has been dedicated to masses by Shri Narendra Modi on 12 th November, 2018 and the proposed freight villages, cold storage, and the creation of business corridor nearby is expected to generate direct and indirect employments to thousands while the MMT built in Sahibganj has been inaugurated on 11 September, 2019.

This second Multi Modal Terminal has widened global scope for industries in Jharkhand and Bihar. This terminal has facilitated Indo- Nepal cargo connectivity, convergence of Road-Rail-River transport, easier transportation of domestic coal from the local mines in Rajmahal area to various thermal power plants located along National Waterway-1, connectivity to North-east states through Bangladesh by river-sea route. The project is not only limited to MMTs but also entails construction of three inter-modal terminals at Ghazipur, Kalughat, and Triveni, five roll-on-roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal pairs, new navigation lock at Farakka in West Bengal, assured depth dredging, integrated vessel repair and maintenance facility, differential global positioning system (DGPS), river information system (RIS) allied with state authorities, river training which ensures a phased and methodical approach to boost the inland transport and inland cargo carriage finely assisted with the ports along the long 7516 km Indian Coastline whose modernization also falls into the project. The operation, management, maintenance and further development of the MMTs are proposed to be allotted to an operator through an international competitive bidding on Public private partnership model. IWAI has also set up National Inland Navigation Institute to impart pre-sea training and has taken up the responsibility of creating skilled manpower.

On November 8, 2020 Prime Minister virtually inaugurated a Ropax ferry Ghogha in Bhavnagar of Saurashtra region and Hazira in Surat that has shortened the current distance of 370 km between Surat and Saurashtra to 60 km and the time of transport will also be decreased from 10-12 hours to 3-4 hours. The Ro-Pax ferry service as stated by the Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Shri Mansukh Mandaviya has the capacity to carry 30 trucks, seven small trucks, 100 two-wheelers and 550 passengers and will do three round trips every day and as per estimation, it will ferry 5 lakh passengers, 80,000 passenger vehicles, 50,000 two-wheelers and 30,000 trucks every year. The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recognized the vast inland network of India as the sunrise sector and with the combined efforts of Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways especially IWAI, state authorities, World Bank and Private stakeholders has pushed the share of cargo freight by inland waterways to 2% from 0.5% (72 million tonnes in 2019-2020) and has projected the growth in traffic to 120 million tonnes by 2023 pulling down the logistic cost down at 6- 8%.

Major challenge to the project is the seasonal nature of major rivers like Ganga that swells with the monsoon and recedes in dry water while invariable depth throughout the river and riverine adds to the tension. These problem calls for large scale dredging of the riverbed to attain the depth needed by larger boats, especially for large barges carrying up to 2,000 tonnes of cargo for which the contracts will be tailored as per need by IWAI and to be monitored through live CCTV cameras. IWAI is also ensuring that water traffic does not prove detrimental to the aquatic biodiversity through dedicated planning and plotting on River information systems and ban on dredging in protected habitat areas such as the Kashi Turtle Sanctuary at Varanasi and the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary at Bhagalpur that fall along the stretch of the river Ganga.

The inland waterways sector is truly a treasure for India if kept under constant development and technological modulation which would facilitate a better economic standing through low logistic cost, better climate conditions as waterways is a greener mode and millions of job opportunities.

About other

Amit Kumar, an ex Merchant Mariner is founder and CEO of Sea and Coast Maritime Magazine. 

Following the career at sea, he went on to become a maritime journalist and aced it. He has acted as a liaison between stakeholders, dignitaries, navy veterans, shipping professionals and maritime fraternity through his popular exclusive columns in monthly publication of the magazine.  
He presides the content, marketing and distribution team of the magazine which exclusively covers maritime affairs and has strived continuously for maintaining apex standard in educating world of complex and rapid changing shipping industry and global supply chain.
Sea And Coast

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