Inland waterways will reshape transportation
Priority development of National Waterway-1 was undertaken through the Jal Vikas Marg Project (JVMP), which includes Arth Ganga, and they will give an economic boost of ₹1,000 crore over the next five years. Besides trade benefits, the local community’s enhancement and passenger facilitation will also ensure large-scale skills development and boost public/private sector capability
The proposal to push inland waterways as a preferred mode of transportation ties in with India’s vision of promoting sustainable growth, especially in the peripheral regions, and reducing India’s carbon footprint. The inland waterways will play a crucial role in realising Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s vision of making India a zero-carbon emission country by 2070.
The inland waterways sector comprises river systems, canals, backwaters, creeks and tidal inlets. This allows the scope of transportation to expand and provide movement solutions at a 30% lower cost than railways and a 60% lower cost than roadways. The neglect of this mode of transportation has been reversed since 2014, when the government made it a mission to reinvigorate the inland waterways system. In FY 2021-22, cargo movement reached an all-time high of 108.79 million tonnes vis-a-vis 83.61 million tonnes during the previous FY, registering a 30.12% year-on-year growth. We intend to build on this success. Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities, provides the perfect platform.
Under the leadership of PM Modi, India is working hard to transform the economy through this environment-friendly and economical mode of transportation as India moves towards becoming atmanirbhar (self-reliant) during Amrit Kaal. Many crucial steps such as the enhancement and development on a priority basis of 23 national waterways, boosting regional connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan; the development of terminal infrastructure for RO-RO and ferry services and policy interventions to incentivise the development of the inland waterways sector are underway.
The visionary PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan shows how to bring about the Transformation through Transportation spirit in India. With spending to the tune of $1.5 trillion on infrastructure development, including rail, road and waterways connectivity, the efficiency and cost of logistics are poised to be optimised and ensure last-mile connectivity, paving the way for the seamless movement of people and cargo. It’s driven by seven engines of growth, namely railways, roads, ports, waterways, airports, mass transport and logistics infrastructure. This also means breaking down departmental silos. This will translate into economic gains for consumers, farmers, youth, and those engaged in businesses. It will improve supply chains and will make local goods globally competitive. The government is considering a rebate on land leases for industrial clusters near the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) terminals, offering multi-modal transport options and logistics zones within industrial clusters.
Priority development of National Waterway-1 was undertaken through the Jal Vikas Marg Project (JVMP), which includes Arth Ganga, and they will give an economic boost of ₹1,000 crore over the next five years. Besides trade benefits, the local community’s enhancement and passenger facilitation will also ensure large-scale skills development and boost public/private sector capability.
A World Bank study shows that one litre of fuel can move 105 tonne-km by inland water transport, against 85 tonne-km by rail and 24 tonne-km by road. Similarly, the carbon emission per tonne-km is 32-36 gm in the case of container vessels, against 51-91 gm for road transport vehicles. This also means we must use renewable energy in inland waterways.
With India’s burgeoning population and increasing traffic, the development of inland waterways will not only reduce travel time and ensure a seamless journey for people and goods, be cost-effective, and bring down pollution levels, we can holistically design a policy that factors in safety, infrastructure support, inter-state coordination and integrate with other transportation modes.
The government is committed to creating solutions appropriate for the demands of the future. The development of inland waterways is a step in this direction to take development into the heartland of the country and ensure an environmentally responsible and economically sustainable mode of transportation that can bear the load of the economic growth, which will make India become an atmanirbhar country by 2047. With the spirit of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas, the government is committed to working with the people to develop inland waterways as the preferred mode of transportation to adapt to future challenges and enable the transformation of India.
Sarbananda Sonowal is minister for ports, shipping and inland waterways The views expressed are personal