Inland waterways will propel the economic growth and port-led development as the Government plans to add 20 more rivers to the already listed 101 rivers, shares Amitabh Verma, Chairman, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), with Prathiba Raju of Elets News Network (ENN)
What is the status of the National Waterways Bill, 2015?
The National Waterways Bill was placed in parliament and then moved to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which gave its suggestions to IWAI after examining all the stakeholders. IWAI accepted the changes and suggestions of the Committee and now, we have given our comments. The suggestions mainly included adding and deleting some waterways based on the state governments’ feedback. After the suggestions are implemented, the number of National Waterways will increase from 101 to 121 waterways. IWAI has drafted a cabinet note and sent it to the government. Now, it will be circulated to all the ministries to get their views and again it will be placed in the next session of parliament. In the meantime, IWAI has done all the preparatory work like categorising the 101 waterways and the additional ones. Once the government approves it, we will work on that also.
The Road and railway sectors are pre-dominantly for carrying passenger traffic and both modes are becoming expensive. So, transporting bulk commodities via waterways would soon be the best option
How do you plan to develop 101 waterways?
The 101 waterways have been categorised into three parts. Out of these, the first 43 waterways are prioritised as highly doable rivers, which has existing data. Moreover, out of the 43, there are 12 such waterways, for which we are in the process of preparing DPR and tender documents will be available by January. Out of these 12 identified waterways, eight will have the EPC by early January. We hope by that time National Waterways Bill will get the parliament nod, so that we can go out for bids and tendering for the development of the waterways. For 44 waterways, we have invited consultants for a feasibility study and engineering design. For the remaining 45, we are exploring only the feasibility study.
How will inland waterways boost the bulk cargo movement?
The National Highway network in our country faces the issue of congestion and is prone to accidents, which mostly hinders the smooth cargo movement. The country’s demand for seamless transportation of bulk commodities is increasing as more and more power and fertiliser plants are coming up; there is a need for greater bulk movement of coal, fertilisers and food grains. Road and railway sectors are pre-dominantly for carrying passenger traffic and both modes are becoming expensive. So, transporting bulk commodities via waterways would soon be the best option.
For example, the river Ganga already has 11 existing power plants and 10 more at different stages of commissioning; so, in five years, transporting cargo via the Ganges would be cheaper. Similarly, the National Thermal Power Corporation has given a commitment of coal movement of three million tonnes, annually, via waterways for seven years for its Farakka plant. NTPC has decided to opt for waterways to move the 16 million tonnes per annum of coal for the power plant which is near Patna, for 10 years.
With dry and polluted rivers, is it possible to boost waterways across the country?
It is not necessary that the whole earth must be motorable for a road to be laid out. Similarly, it is not necessary that the whole width of the river needs to be navigable. We have to dig out a channel of 40 to 60 meters, where two barrages can go across. Most of the rivers have their own depth and it should be maintained. Locating the deepest channel, IWAI will protect and maintain the channel around the year. It will maintain three-metre depth, so that a 2000 tonne barge can be moved. If that is not possible, two-metre draft depth can be maintained and it can move 1000 tonne vessel. Apart from this, IWAI is also looking for the right kind of ship designs, which can carry larger capacity with least depth availability. As for ferry services for passenger movement and Roll On and Roll Off facilities, 1.5-metre depth is sufficient for a 2000 tonne vessel.
The country’s demand for seamless transportation of bulk commodities is increasing, especially because more and more power and fertiliser plants are coming up
How do you manage the funding? Has it been flowing in smoothly?
Funding for the sector has been an issue. We are looking at increased budgetary support and multilateral funding and PPP model. We might opt for market borrowing a few years later. Unlike the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which only looks into building road infrastructure, for us it is not an easy affair. We have to ensure attracting investors, promoting business and look for some tie-ups and incentivise the shippers, because the market is not yet ready.
What about the state governments’ participation?
Coastal states understand that water is for navigation and shipping as well. But most of the inland states believe that water is mainly for drinking and irrigation, industrial purposes. IWAI has been writing to these and brought many state governments on board and conducted workshops to emphasise the role of inland waterways. IWAI has a right to develop the rivers notified as National Waterways; the other rivers are under the control of respective state governments.
Most of the states don’t do the dredging for any of the rivers on their own, as they just do the embankment protection to manage the flood situation. If they do dredging, the silting will be removed and water level will be maintained. The two states which have shown interest are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Bihar has already allotted a tender for dredging and has asked IWAI to train for their water resources engineering staff at the field level for scientific dredging.
Can IWAI help in promoting Cruise Tourism?
IWAI’s primary job is to maintain the necessary draft of the rivers near pilgrimage routes, so that cruise operations take place all year round. At the moment, we operate six trips between Varanasi and Patna for just 45 days between September 6 and October 20. If there required depth in the Ganga, we can invite more vessels for cruise on this route and can even consider extending the itinerary up to Allahabad. As of now, the cruises operating are high-end cruises and most of the domestic tourists can’t afford them, and most of the tickets are sold overseas. With growing interest, we have asked the Tourism Ministry to address the domestic tourist interest as well.