The National Waterway (NW-1) between Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh and Haldia in West Bengal will be operational from March 2010.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has assured round-the-clock navigational aid along the 1620-km NW-1 and commissioned a DGPS station in Bhagalpur. Another station would shortly be installed in Patna. “This is part of the IWAI action plan to make NW 1 and 2 fully functional by 2011,” said SP Gaur, chairman, IWAI.
He said that if some of the bulk cargo moving in and out of Patna, namely foodgrains, fertilisers, coal, POL, cement, stone chips and other construction material, were moved by inland water transport (IWT) mode it would save fuel and transportation cost even in adverse climate changes.
Gaur said, “Most of the time cargo vessels come to Patna from Haldia, Kolkata and Pakur loaded with one or other cargo but they return empty.” A few years back the IWAI used to get iron dust as down stream cargo from Patna but now even that had stopped, he said.
“Considering that Patna is an important trade centre of Bihar and also charges levied by IWAI vessels were normally less than rail freight, it does not seem logical that we do not get return cargo from Patna,” Gaur said. “It is obvious that if cargo vessels go empty on their way back, the commercial viability of the operation get adversely affected,” he added.
Chief Secretary of Bihar, Anup Mukherjee, said that continuous dredging was necessary for development of inland waterways. Promising to look into IWAI initiatives for development of IWT, he said, “We will have to work that out.”
According to experts, the 460-km stretch between Farakka and Patna had 2- metre depth and was navigable 330 days a year. “The low-level cargo terminal at Patna would shortly be upgraded to high-level. The upgradation of other terminals was also under progress. As per IWAI action plan the entire NW 1 would soon be digitalised”, they said.
“The IWAI has entered into an agreement with NTPC for transport of coal, cement and iron for power plants at Kahalgaon and Farakka, and also the upcoming one at Barh,” S C Srivastava, member (cargo), IWAI, said. Compared to transport of 40 per cent cargo by waterways in China, the IWAI transported a mere 3.4 btkm of cargo, he added, asserting that IWT has the potential to carry 5 per cent of the country’s total cargo.