Editorial Articles

Volume-42, 13-19 January, 2017

Indian Inland Waterways Sector Set to Create Large Number of Jobs

By Dr Ranjeet Mehta

Historically, societies have always been located near water sources, largely because water enables efficient transport. At various stages in the history of economic growth, waterways have helped create economic wealth. During the colonial period, at the recorded peak in 1877, as many as 180,000 country cargo boats were registered at Kolkata, 124,000 at Hooghly and 62,000 at Patna. The fleet strength today is not even worth mentioning, which for information’s sake is probably about 500.
Through the ages, rivers have served as effective waterways, carrying people and goods over long distances.  Even today, many countries depend heavily on inland water transport, especially for large and bulky cargo, as it is cheaper, more reliable and less polluting than transporting goods by road or rail.
Government  is Commeted to develop this cheaper and greener mode of transportation. However, most of the goods still travel by congested road and rail networks, slowing the movement of cargo, adding to uncertainties, and increasing the costs of trade. So much so that logistics costs in India are estimated to account for as much as 18 percent of the country’s GDP.
India has an extensive network of inland waterways  in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. The total navigable length is 14,500 km, out of which about 5200 km of the river and 4000 km of canals can be used by mechanised crafts. Freight transportation by waterways is highly under-utilised in India compared to other large countries and geographic areas like the United States, China and the European Union. The total cargo moved (in tonne kilometres) by the inland waterway was just 0.1% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the 21% figure for United States. Cargo transportation in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam ,and Kerala.
Inland Waterways Authority of India ("IWAI"), a statutory authority constituted under the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985, which is inter alia responsible for infrastructure development and maintenance works on national waterways, had designated 5 waterways totalling 4382 kilometres as National Waterways with a view to improve navigability in India. IWAI has been successful in attracting some private sector investment in inland water transport through Joint Venture route, one of them being the Vivada Inland Waterways Ltd which is mainly controlled from Kolkata.
The National Waterways Act, 2016 was recently enacted in order to amend the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985. The amendments have added 106 additional inland waterways as the national waterways, thereby increasing the total number of national waterways to 111 from existing five national waterways. Further, the Act of 2016 has also repealed the five statutes (dealing with five notified National Waterways) that separately dealt with the existing 5 national waterways and has included the same within the new Act. The pronouncement of additional national waterways would be of assistance in major overhaul of the movement of goods and passengers by way of rivers around the country.
Initiatives for promotion of Inland Waterways
Since many Indian cities are connected by rivers, development and promotion of river cruises connecting heritable sites is one of the ways to enhance the potential of rivers plying throughout the country. In fact, there has been a welcome development in this regard. A river cruise vessel named 'M.V. Mahabaahu' is being operated on the river Brahmaputra. Further, the Champions Yacht Club has recently introduced a river cruise named 'Tanvi' on the river Krishna with a view to boost the cruise tourism industry.
After  declaring 111 national waterways, including the 5 national waterways declared earlier has been enforced w.e.f. 12th April, 2016. The process for preparation of techno economic feasibility (TEF) study/Detailed Project Report (DPR) of new national waterways was initiated. As per the feasibility reports received so far, 32 new national waterways and five national waterways declared earlier are to be developed in the next three years. Out of these 32 new national waterways, DPRs for 8 waterways are available. The process for preparation of DPR has been initiated for the remaining 24 waterways.
Based on the available DPRs, development work of river Barak (NW -16) has been initiated for fairway development and navigational aids for the stretch Silchar – Bhanga (70 km) proposed under phase – I.  Jal Marg Vikas Project - Project for capacity augmentation of National Waterway - 1 (River Ganga) from Haldia to Varanasi (Phase -I) by facilitating navigation of 1500-2000T Ships. The project envisages various sub-projects such as fairway development, navigational aids, construction of multi-modal terminals at Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia, construction of new navigational lock at Farakka, bank protection work, LNG vessels etc. Project has been commissioned with the technical and financial assistance of World Bank at an estimated cost of Rs.5639 cr.
The status of development of sub-projects is as below: a) Multi-modal Terminal at Varanasi Work order for construction of Phase-I (A), mainly offshore work was awarded at a cost of Rs. 169.70 cr. on 13.05.2016 and the work has commenced. Work is scheduled to be completed in 26 months. b) Multimodal Terminal at Sahibganj Work for construction of Phase-I of the Terminal has been awarded at a cost of Rs. 280.90 on 27.10.2016. The work is scheduled to be completed in 30 months. c) Construction of New Navigational Lock at Farakka Tender process has been completed and the work has been awarded cr. on 15.11.2016 at a cost of Rs. 359.19 cr. The work is scheduled to be completed in 30 months. d) Multimodal Terminal at Haldia. 61 acres of land in the Haldia Dock Complex has been taken on 30 year lease from Kolkata Port Trust. Tender process for Phase-I of the terminal is in the advanced stage. The work is scheduled to be completed in 30 months from the date of award of work.
Addressing Environmental concerns
Until about a hundred years ago, the Ganga river, too, was a busy waterway. But with the coming of the railways, this watercourse fell into disuse. The Government of India is now reviving the Ganga watercourse – known as National Waterway 1 or NW1- to ferry cargo from the eastern seaport of Haldia to Varanasi, some 1,360 km inland.  The waterway has the potential to emerge as the leading logistics artery for northern India.
The waterway’s stretch between Kolkata and Delhi passes through one of India’s most densely populated areas.  A sizeable forty percent of all India’s traded goods either originate from this resource-rich region or are destined for its teeming markets.  While the region is estimated to generate about 370 million tonnes of freight annually, only a tiny fraction of this - about 5 million tonnes - currently travels by water.
Currently, cargo from the Gangetic states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh takes circuitous land routes to reach the sea ports of Mumbai in Maharashtra and Kandla in Gujarat, rather than going to the much-closer port at Kolkata.  The development of NW1 will help these states direct some of their freight to the Kolkata-Haldia complex, making the movement of freight more reliable and reducing logistics costs significantly.
The World Bank is financing the development of the Ganga waterway with a loan of $ 375 million.  The Capacity Augmentation of National Waterway 1 Project will help put in place the infrastructure and services needed to ensure that NW1 emerges as an efficient transport artery in this important economic region.  
Once operational, the waterway will form part of the larger multi-modal transport network being planned along the river.  It will link up with the Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, as well as with the area’s existing network of highways.  This web of water, road and rail arteries will help the region’s industries and manufacturing units switch seamlessly between different modes of transport as they send their goods to markets in India and abroad. Farmers in the agriculturally-rich Gangetic plain will also benefit, as the waterway opens up markets further afield. 
Since the Ganga occupies a special place in the social, cultural and environmental landscape of the country, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has sought to adopt the least intrusive methods of making the river navigable. It has therefore followed the principle of ‘working with nature’ while planning the Ganga waterway.
Unlike many of the world’s major watercourses, the Ganga is a seasonal river that swells with the monsoon rains and recedes in the dry winters.  While small boats can indeed ply along this seasonal river, large cargo barges need a minimum depth to sail in.  Shipping on the Ganga has thus been limited by the varying depths of water found in the river. Currently, traffic is largely limited to the river’s downstream stretch between Farakka and the Haldia where the water is deep enough - 2.5 m to 3.0 m - for boats to sail in throughout the year.  
Typically, making such a river navigable would call 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. In the Ganga’s case, special care has been taken to accommodate such vessels while keeping the need for dredging to the minimum.
A 45 metre-wide channel has been earmarked in the river’s deepest part, and the Least Available Depths (LAD) needed for navigation has been determined keeping in mind the need to reduce dredging.  The channel’s depth thus follows the river’s natural gradient in different stretches and is sufficient to support the two-way movement of large barges.
These measures will reduce the need for dredging to just 1.5 percent of the river’s annual silt load of 10-11 million cubic metres.  Even this limited dredging will only be done when absolutely necessary and then too using modern, less intrusive technologies. Among these technologies is the proposed water injection method that will use water pressure to liquefy silt deposits and wash them away. The dense slurry that results will then be deposited - either naturally or through induced currents - into depressions along the riverbed, ensuring that sediments remain within the river’s ecosystem.
Where large shoals and islands exist, temporary structures made of natural materials such as bamboo will be erected to channelize the water flow. These temporary structures – or ‘bandals’ as they are known – will be especially erected near aquatic sanctuaries to protect the Ganga’s diverse fauna.  Contracts will also be tailored to reduce the need for dredging.
IWAI is also ensuring that water traffic does not impact the two aquatic wildlife sanctuaries that fall along this stretch of the river -- the Kashi Turtle Sanctuary at Varanasi and the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary at Bhagalpur.
As a first step, information about these protected aquatic habitats and other sensitive areas such as wetlands will be fed into the new River Information System being developed under the World Bank-supported Project.  This will ensure that vessels plying in these areas comply with the operational framework that has been put into place for minimizing impacts in sensitive zones. This framework includes:
lA ban on dredging in protected habitat areas
lIn other areas that are known to be the habitat of valued aquatic species, no dredging will be allowed in the breeding and spawning seasons. 
lThe speed of barges travelling along the protected areas of the sanctuaries will be restricted to 5km per hour. 
lAll vessels plying on the Ganga will be fitted with noise control and animal exclusion devices so that aquatic life is not unduly disturbed. 
lAll vessels will also have to comply with `zero discharge’ standards to prevent solid or liquid waste from flowing into the river and affecting its biodiversity.  
The inland waterway vessels are presently run on diesel. In an attempt to ensure the usage of environment friendly and cost effective fuel, there is widespread and urgent need to adopt compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel for inland waterway vessels. However, prior to suggesting any shift in the fuel, it would be necessary to set up adequate CNG pump stations in areas where CNG use for vehicles is not in vogue. While setting up CNG pump stations, the financial viability of such pump stations would also have to be considered.
Efforts are also underway to provide a secure environment for the terminals and cruises, with a view to provide safe and secure movement of tourists, check illegal transportation of goods, etc. along the riverbanks which is matter of concern for respective state governments. For instance, Government of Bihar has notified certain river thanas / police stations on the banks of the river Ganga.
The development of facilities like restaurants, hotels along riverside requires certain short, medium and long term planning in order to ensure adequate sewerage, water, power, terminal, refuelling, waste and effluent treatment and other services and amenities such that the developments are environmentally friendly yet economically viable. Planning should  include environment-friendly measures such sewage and effluent treatment plant, waste treatment, storm water drains, rain water harvesting system and other waste management systems. While earmarking such areas for development, the government will have to change its approach from construction first and infrastructure later to infrastructure first and construction to follow. Any well planned development would not only be environmentally sustainable but would also attract greater investments as well as users.
Considering all the aforesaid concerns, it can be concluded that the potential of navigable waterways and shore side and river services needs to be widened as a complementary and environmentally sustainable mode of transport, tourism and recreation. The development and regulation of waterways and river services should be critically examined and the concerned authorities should do away with all the anomalies that have obstructed the evolution and expansion of the sector.
To conclude,  as the  economy getting increasingly integrated and globalised, and infrastructure development being a key area, inland waterways will become critical to trade and growth. The recent National Waterways Act which has 111 inland rivers and channels as national waterways, up from six is a promising step in that direction. A quick perusal of the list of 111 national waterways shows immense opportunities for transboundary and regional cooperation, as has been the case in the areas of motor vehicles and power. This could result in substantial savings for the importers — countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. If the claims of reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions turn into reality, it could enable India to take the leadership role in South Asia in meeting the global climate change mitigation-related challenges.
After all, the European Union was able to achieve its target of reduction GHG emissions in the transport sector through increased use of short sea shipping technique on its waterways. Given the fairly nascent stage of inland water transport in India (and also South Asia), innovations could be pursued in developing energy efficient shipping options that also emit reduced GHGs (such as those running on natural gas).
Finally it is estimated that 1.8 lakh persons would be provided employment in the Inland Waterways Transport (IWT) sector in the next five years as per the government of India. New employment opportunities are expected to be generated for operation and management of fairway, terminals, aids to navigation, barges, training and other areas.
Principal Director, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, New Delhi Email
ranjeetmehta@gmail.com  and Ms Reefat Rasool Joint Secretary PHDCCI