National waterway project fails to take into account the green costs
On January 3, the Centre approved the Rs 5,369-crore Jal Vikas Marg Project (JVMP) for enhanced navigation on the Haldia-Varanasi stretch of the National Waterway-1 (NW-1). The project is expected to be completed by 2023 and the Centre claims will provide an alternative mode of transport that is supposed to be environment friendly and cost effective. This assessment, however, only takes into account the direct costs incurred by transporters: the cost of running the barges and maintaining the terminals. It does not account for the monetary value of the environmental costs that are imposed upon society.
The river Ganga meanders across the landscape and spreads over its riverbed making pools and shallow areas. Fish and turtles lay eggs in these shallow areas. But thanks to dredging, which is already being done in the Ganga under the NW-1 project, the river is now channelised in one deep channel. The river no longer meanders and no longer has pools and shallow areas, destroying the habitat of fish and turtles. The stretch of the Ganga near Varanasi has been declared as a turtle sanctuary and studies in other countries indicate that large numbers get hit by fast-moving tourist boats because turtles move slowly.
The stretch of the Ganga near Bhagalpur has been declared a wildlife sanctuary for the conservation of the Ganges Dolphin. This animal does not have eyes. It navigates and catches its prey by the sound made by the movement of other aquatic creatures. The plying of large barges will create a high level of sound and make it difficult for them to survive. The paint on ships and barges will also pollute the water. The carbon dioxide released by the ships will be is absorbed more by the water because of its proximity and this too pollutes the river.
A Report by the US-based Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy says that transport of cargo by barges on the Mississippi waterway is economical only because it is not taxed while user fees are charged from rail and road transport. The NW-1 will be no different. The small direct benefits from cheaper transportation will indeed accrue to the people but so will the large environmental costs.