Inland Water Transport ( IWT ) has played an important role in Indian transport since ancient times. India with a extensive network of rivers, canals, lakes has approximately 14500 km of navigable waterways, yet inland water transport (IWT) accounts for less than 1% of its freight traffic, compared with around 35% in Bangladesh and around 20% in Germany. This is despite IWT’s better cost arithmetic and materially less polluting nature. And the cost of developing an inland waterway is barely 10% of a four-lane highway of similar capacity.
Importance / Prospects:
(i) Employment potential :
As per National Transport development policy committee every Rs 1 lac investment would generate 33.6 person year sof employment.
(ii) Environmentally friendly:
IWT consumes minimal energy compared to other modes.
(iii) Reduced freight costs:
As its is the cheapest most of transport for cargo.
Recently govt is also experimenting with innovations that would allow these barges to be powered with LNG, thus reducing freight cost plus using a cleaner fuel.
IWT could be a great revenue booster for its promising tourism potential.
(v) Linkage to North East:
International protocols provide direct linkage of Haldia and Kolkata ports with landlocked NE.
Issues / Challenges:
(i) Geographical challenges :
- Geographical constraints: There are problems in smooth navigation because of waterfalls and cataracts, as in Narmada and Tapti.
- Increased siltation: Reduced navigability due to siltation, as in the Bhagirathi-Hooghly and in the Buckingham Canal.
- Reduced water flow: Reduced flow due to diversion of water for irrigation, for instance, in the Ganga which makes it difficult even for steamers to ply.
(ii) Technical challenges :
- Lack of navigation infrastructure: Rudimentary infrastructure coupled with non-availability of water round the year is an impediment for operation of waterways.
- Inadequate depth: Lack of inadequate depth of waterways for commercial movement of cargo is a major concern. Also quality of water flow is becoming poorer progressively.
(iii) Financial challenges :
Construction of dams/barrage to increase depth of navigation faces challenges of economic viability.
(iv) Regulatory challenges :
- There is lack of modal integration of and detailed mapping of waterways and industrial clusters and also lack of integration of hinterland coastal shipping with international maritime traffic.
- Lack of level playing policy (waterways were not on the national horizon for planning and connectivity for long time) among different modes of transport.
- Lack of uniformity in legal and administrative issues as inland waterways move through more than one state.
(v) Political challenges :
Inter-linking of rivers is a major issue, which is yet to materialize.
- There is a need to give adequate financial support for operationalising these waterways.
- Interlinking waterways and ports with coastal shipping. This will have a domino effect of development of that area, and also relieve pressure on the land based modes.
- Increasing the role of private sector in development of infrastructure and services in IWT sector on PPP basis.
- Container mode of transport should be promoted in the area using multi-modal transit route through Bangladesh, which may ease the transport of essential commodities to the North Eastern states.
A holistic and concerted effort can change India’s transportation landscape, decongest arterial roads, and even improve quality of life across geographies. The above-mentioned policy interventions thus should be done on priority basis.