Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'Baad' - The curse of Afghan Women

I wonder, how people can punish one for others crimes? Let me ask you the question; are you ready to suffer humiliation, pain etc for something you didn't do? Born in a family is something, over which we don’t have any control, people can have relatives they don’t like, but nobody can change that. It’s a relation by accident.

This may be reason, why the framers of progressive laws only punish the murderer for a murder; the thief for the theft; the rapist for the rape etc. Not the accused person's mother, sister, brother, cousin or any other relatives. Then why Afghan woman should suffer humiliation, disgrace, persecution and torture for settling relative's disputes? Welcome to the notorious concept of 'Baad'.

‘Baad’ is a traditional practice of settling disputes in Pakistan and Afghanistan among Pushtun tribes in which a young girl is traded to settle a dispute for her older relatives. This may involve being used as payment for a financial dispute, as a means to avoid larger or longer-lasting arguments and grudges.

The unfortunate thing is even today this mechanism is in full swing. If this is the fate of many young Afghan women, what will be their future? Can anybody deprive half the population from their economic deeds, education and most of all the right to live a life with dignity? My answer is no, what about yours?



1. For Punishment of Elder’s Misdeeds, Afghan Girl Pays the Price: NewYork Times
2. Afghan Girls Suffer for Sins of Male Relatives: UNHCR
3. Wikipedia

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Indian Railway, Part I - A Race to Bottom?

Indian Railway, Part I – A Race to Bottom

Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?

Indian Railway, Part III –  Accidents
Indian Railway, Part IV - Will the Pheonix rise again?

                                                    Last time I used Indian Railway was on my previous journey from Palakkad [Kerala] to Bangalore [Karnataka]. I took a General Ticket for the fully packed Island Express (9.30PM); train was on time, after eight hours of journey I reached Bangalore on the next morning.

For 479kms ticket rate was around 110 Rs for general, and 226 for sleeper class. For the same route local buses (getting down at every other bus stand), charged me around 200 Rs. Kerala RTC earns a minimum 311 (Super Express), Karnataka RTC earns around 400 Rs (Deluxe Service). Just compare these rates with that of Railways!!!


After its formal inauguration on 16th April 1853, with 14 railway carriages carrying about 400 guests left Bori Bunder with 21 gun salutes railways traveled a lot. Under ministry of Railways, we have 1,08,706 km tracks over a route of 63,028 km. IR also runs 11,000 trains every day where 7,000 are passenger trains (#4). Employing more than 13.62mn people, Indian rail network is the fourth largest in the world.

Financial condition

It’s very difficult to calculate the actual financial condition of a government run company, especially the one like Indian railway which required a huge amount of Real Estate. For e.g. in many cases the massive land bank owned by IR was not entirely bought by it at market rates. In many cases state governments which want to see trains running through their state acquired the land.

As a government run company it is supposed to give dividends to the share holder, that is central government. But here much more than dividend are going back to Railways in the form of General budgetary support and other developmental assistance. Moreover Railways can also generate money by selling the bonds with an attractive tax exemption tag added to it.

According to the reports IR had a cash surplus of  900 Crores (USD 198mn) in 2005, 14000 Crores (USD 3.1bn) in 2006, 20000 Crores (USD 4.4bn) in 2007 and 25000 Crores (USD 5.5bn) for 2007–2008 fiscal year (#6). In these peak years IR become a global example of how to turn around a company. Many renowned institutions came to India to study this magic formula.

Unfortunately this olden era didn't last long, currently IR became an example how fast a company can 'Race to Bottom’. Railway’s profit in the year 2009-10 stands at 951 Crores, 93% lower than that of 2007-08 level. While the 2009-10 Railway Budget, presented in July last year, projected profits stands at 2,642.26 crores, the estimate has been revised downwards by 64% to 951.03 crores (#7). If dip in profits was some 10 or 20% we can understand, but 93% is not an easily digestible figure. Only IR can explain how it managed to do that!!!

Well the financial situation continued its downward spiral; ministers who try to bring more and more popular budget only accelerated this bleeding. Without the amount coming from the general budget railways may not even make any profit at all. An institution which once represented the poster boy of India's development saga recently racing with other like minded government enterprises like BSNL and Air India in its race to bottom. .

Comparing with Chinese Rail network

Even though we are boasting about the mammoth size of IR, comparison with China shows the pathetic growth rate. At the time of independence India had 54,000 km of rail route, China had only 21,800 km rails in 1950. China reached 78,000 km in 2007 and 86,000 km in 2009. Now they had a target of 1, 20,000 km for 2020. In the same time, that is until 2004 we added an average of 161 km/year to our existing network; from 2004-05 to 2008-09 we added 220 km/year (from 2004-05 to 2008-09 China clocked an increase of 1000km/year). (#9)

According to the IIFL study, China saw her first experimental HSR (High Speed Rail) in 2003, and they are planning to expand it to 28,000 km by 2014. For IR, HSR is a child yet to born.


For reading next part: Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?


1. Indian Railways Growth, Sustenance and the Leap Forward a Case Study -
2. Indian Railway Year Book 2009-10
4. Ministry Of Railways - Government of India
5. Rail Budget Speech 2011-2012 -
7. Indian Railways profit falls 93% in two years -
8. Railway Budget and the question of Resources -
9. Challenge to Indian Railway - Expansion and HSR is the requirement of time -
10. Do we really need a separate Rail Ministry? -

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A bitter capsule from Italian Premier Mario Monti on Job safety–Part II

For reading Part 1: A bitter capsule from Italian Premier Mario Monti on Job safety–Part I

The steep downward spiral of economy started in 2008 was really a hard hit for Europeans. Started with Greece, the economic woes slowly spread to the rest of EU - to Spain, to Portugal, to Italy, to Ireland etc. Not even UK and France were spared. When the political governments in Greece and Italy were not able to push the reforms they find themselves in the street. Existing governments were replaced by technocratic ones.

It’s often observed that, in the worst times ‘whatever possible to go wrong will go wrong. The case of labour laws and job safety are not different, jobs were hard to find. In Italy "Youth unemployment in December hit 31 percent, more than 10 percentage points higher than five years ago."

In many countries Labour laws were strict; you can’t downsize the company even though the prospects are bad. According to the report on a recent New York Times, in Italy, "Article 18 of the 1970 Workers Statute...forbids companies with more than 15 employees from firing people without just cause. The unions say that line cannot be crossed." Well, law ensured job safety but it also forced the business to rethink about investment. What will you do if the company is not doing well, as downsizing is not allowed? What we need to ensure is, companies should not be allowed to fire workers with impunity (for e.g. only to replace permanent workers with contractors), but they should be allowed to do so on rational grounds.

“The problem is actually getting a job, not being fired from one,” said Antonio De Napoli, 27, spokesman for the National Youth Council, a nonpartisan grouping of organizations, who argues that his generation has already accepted the flexibility imposed by current market laws. “What we want is greater support when we’re not working.”

I support austerity programs, but not the current one imposed by Brussels on the credit squeezed European Countries. Austerity is good; in this time of difficulties government should cut the expenditure, but not the capital expenditure. If government itself is cutting the capital investments then the private sector will not dare to invest at all. Everyone will try to increase the savings, which will invariable lead to the scarcity of money to invest. This situation will leads to mass unemployment and reduction in taxes, which will again leads to government income and more recessions. Even if cash strapped governments someway escaped from default, the austerity programs and scarcity of money for investing will increase the time for economic recovery.

The report[1] continues,

He further notes that “We are happy with these initiatives, but if banks don’t give young people credit, what good is opening a company with €1?” he said. “Flexibility is fine, but banks have to be open when we ask for a mortgage or access to credit. Otherwise, the young generation risks being slaughtered."

The unfortunate truth is many companies are focussed on making the input cheaper to do the same job instead of moving up in the value chain. It’s more alarming when the companies from developing world - even after staying in the industry for long time – are doing the same. Many of the companies in developing world are switching the permanent job with contractors and exploring the possibility of outsourcing to further low wage countries. Well this will make their balance sheet much better in the short term, but they are wasting an opportunity to move up in the value chain. Unfortunately many companies become a training ground for employees to achieve some skill and move to some other companies.

For job seekers this world is becoming more and harsher, in European countries, where the unemployment rates are alarmingly high, there is no guarantee that students will get jobs after coming out of Colleges. Even if you land a job there is no guarantee that it will be a permanent one. Surveys reveal that, people are ready to accept much lower salaries if there is a possibility to get a permanent job. The situation is really problematic. If the youth is not able to engage on something creative even after coming out of college and spending some years on job search, it will not take much time to see them on the streets.

Easiest way to solve the problem is massive public spending on infrastructure. This is easy for countries like China which is sitting on the top a huge forex reserve, but not for the cash strapped European governments, which are struggling to find currency for day-to-day operations. I have three suggestions for alleviate the problem.

1. Even though it is difficult it is important for countries to assign a certain portion of the bailout money or tax income for industry, especially export industry.
2. Government should kick start projects for national infrastructure development (mass employment) - focussed on the areas which will in the future contribute will nation's growth.
3. Earmark a certain percentage of money in priority research areas and product development.
4. Governments should give a line of credit to the potential entrepreneurs and ask the private banks to do so (loan should be guaranteed by the government otherwise no private banks will open a line of credit for Small and Medium scale industries).

If the people don’t have any hope or job, it will not be easy for governments to push the austerity program forward. Even if they went forward, without generating a source for foreign exchange through trade and other economic activities it will not be possible for the bailed out countries to live even after attaining financial stability.


[1] NewYork Times

Monday, February 20, 2012

A bitter capsule from Italian Premier Mario Monti on Job safety–Part I

"Young people will have to get used to the idea of not having a fixed job for life" - Mario Monti, Italian Premier.
It’s not that we don’t know; continuing economic turmoil in US and Europe already showed us how fragile our permanent jobs are. What people didn’t expect is the confirmation of the same by a head of the state.

When I was in college, class rooms were reserved for PSC (Kerala Public Service Commission) exams on Saturday’s. People from all over the state were competing for a few openings in government departments. After all government jobs were considered as the strongest life insurance cover one can have. Even the gulf boom started in the late seventies didn’t alter the status of government employees. It’s true that the rising salaries in the Middle East and IT boom took the sheen off from the government jobs.

Then came 2008 financial crisis - a hard hit on economy. Job security evaporated overnight. In IT sector, people who were jumping from one company to another in a matter of 5-12 months struggled to retain their position. Candidates who cleared all the exams and interviews find themselves again in the examination hall. Companies struggled to honour offer letters. It was not that government jobs were safe; many PSU’s shut down permanently after finding it difficult to compete with foreign companies in ever changing market conditions.

Still the concept of permanent job remains sacrosanct across the world. Even though Monti told that the fixed jobs are monotonous, people hardly changed the career. I am yet to see a bank manager quitting the job because he found it monotonous and boring. Saying is very easy but jump in to the ocean of uncertainty is totally a different ball game. There was an established pattern- study hard in school days, finish graduation from a reputed university, land in a decent job, marry a girl and settle down. After studies some went to their relative’s home in distant cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune etc and tried to sew their life together. Many others dared to cross the oceans and land in former Asian Tiger countries or Middle East petro dollar economies. After completing around 40-45 years of service people say good bye to their job and settle down with their family.

But liberalization changed everything. It not only give the people an opportunity to become a tiger, but it also forced them to live a tiger’s life – either hunt hard for living or starve to death. I still remember that sad scene of a tiger’s normal death in one of the wildlife documentary. Welcome to the post modern world!!!

In the late stage of cold war, US workers find their jobs flying to Far-East Asia and East Asia. It was no one’s fault; US companies find the new markets a virgin land to sell their products and for cheap labour. People in East and Far-East Asia recovering from the devastating blow of World War II (WWII) were desperate for securing bread for them and their family. As long as US and European companies were able to scale up their efficiency and skills everything was fine. Various technological breakthroughs helped the companies to raise their operational efficiency as well as profit margin. But there was a revolution going on in the East – in Japan, in Korea, in China, in Malaysia, in Singapore - once the major exporters of the ancient world Asian countries (especially East and Far East) tried to recover their position.

As Deng said, China no longer cared about the colour of the cats; all that matters to them was whether it can catch a mice or not. Slowly they moved higher in the production chain, from the manufacturing of transistors, to PCBs, to microchips; from the position of exporters of primary goods to the one which exports toys to fighter planes.

As the lower end job continued to shift from high to low wage areas, people in higher wage areas started facing difficulties. They had two options - either work hard or enhance their skills. Working hard had its own limitations; this will take you to the next level but going beyond that required corresponding enhancement in the skill set. In the low wage countries also, things was not so good, there were so many people for so little jobs. In the end ‘something better than nothing’ prevailed.

Economic progress increased the wages too. This created another set of problems; companies which posted better results in profit and growth started experiencing squeeze in their margins. They automated whatever they can automate, and job started continued to moving in search of cheaper labour. Thus assignments moved once to Japan from US continued to flow to China then to other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia etc. Automation and technological advances reduced the number of people required to for finishing a project dramatically - an inevitable consequence when the society advances.


For reading Part 2 A bitter capsule from Italian Premier Mario Monti on Job safety–Part II

Sunday, February 19, 2012

UP Elections - Dangerous developments in Caste and Religious politics

Today one of my friends stopped me after a session in the afternoon and asked what you think about reservation. It was an unexpected question from her; I stopped for some time and let her continue to speak on the issue. She explained me about how people in her class (when she was in school and college) - well placed in society - enjoyed the fruits of reservation which she can’t even expect. As I explained my view I came to the ongoing campaign in UP political elections.

UP elections are already in progress. The biggest state of India by population, UP results used to strengthen or weaken the legs of Delhi throne. Contributing the biggest contingent of MPs to parliament UP holds the key for forming the Union government. Major state parties are already engaged in head to head fight. 2012 assembly elections are crucial for all the parties,

For Congress (INC),

* There is heavy linkage between the claims of Congress General Secretary for Premiership and the success in UP elections.
* For reducing the influence of West Bengal CM (who looks more on opposition than on government side) in central governments decisions congress need post strong results.
* Party desperately needs to succeed in UP which they lost around two decades back to achieve the dream of single party majority in parliament

For SP,

* Already out of power for a long time
* An indicator of the popularity of the new leadership
* Victory will open the chance for a new alliance with Congress in the centre (may be outside support).


* If not finished first, need to sit next 5 years in opposition, by this time there may not be any statue of left in the roads of UP.
* Severe setback for the plan to expand the party influence to other states and to Delhi.
* If failed, new government will not leave any possible chance to attack (court cases) the party for the next five years.


* A failure will be more than the party can suffer.
* Without winning the Ganga belt the chance for BJP to regain Delhi is very distant.
* Questions will rise against the current leadership
* Allies will become stronger and assertive and party may be force to accommodate the ally’s wishes.
* If the party is not able use anti-incumbency factor and numerous corruption scandals then they may have to forget the possibility of regaining the Delhi in 2014.

Disappearing lines between Caste/Religion and Politics

But does the UP election represent the victory of democracy? I am rather worried about the thinning separation between caste/religion and politics. What worrying me more is after every election this line of separation is becoming thinner. When Nitish Kumar came to power on developmental agenda it was a consolation for the lovers of democracy, after all there was break from caste politics in Bihar; but UP crushed all those hopes.

Now-a-days the computational efficiency of various parties is spending on determining the caste equation of various assembly seats and determining the candidates based on that. How a person reached in assembly? They have to be elected by the people from an assembly seat. What motivates the people to vote for a particular candidate? Answers can be his /her policies, his /her developmental agenda, his /her social views, his /her economic views, personal relationship with the candidate etc.

So what will happen is this allegiance is replaced by caste/ religion? What if parties are fielding candidates because the majority of the voters in that assembly seat are from a particular caste or community? Asking the people to vote for him/her because the candidate is from your caste/community, vote for him/her because he will give you more reservation (if one party offered 9% another will offer 18%). The black and white question to the voters is something like this - what is the problem if you don’t know him/her what is the problem if he/she had a criminal past? What is the problem if he/she previously created a big hole in the government exchequer? Vote for him because he belongs to your caste. Don’t you want to see a person from your caste sit in the assembly? Well, whoever thinks caste/religious politics is good tell me why Pakistan and Bangladesh are separated in 1971? Why they were not able to continue together?


These are dangerous games; the one which should not be played. These manoeuvres may lead to some temporary victory but long term losses. In the end people may start to think more on religion/ caste lines on every problem than going for rational thought process.

Candidates and parties should not try to appeal to the religious/caste spirits of the people. In the same way people should allow themselves to be manipulated by anyone who mixes politics with religion/ caste. Election Commission should ensure this. In democracy religion and politics are separate and should be like that, the former should not enter in to the realm of the latter.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Tomatoes and Refrigerator – The story of perishable food items in India

Fresh vegetables being sold on a street - Guntur, India

Some days back I was walking through a small street road in Bangalore, suddenly one red coloured ball shot past my shoulders. I turned my eyes in its direction. It hit the road and broke in to pieces. I turned towards the direction it was coming from; it was our usual vegetable man. He was smiling towards me, a good guy who normally try to offer me the freshest tomatoes or beans available.

After buying some vegetables I walked towards the room. On the way I went to another bakery to have a Musambi Juice – one of my favorite one. Here in Bangalore it is available in a price range of 10-16 INR depends on the place and store. The guy stands next to me was buying some eggs. After having the juice I walked straight to the room, thinking about the broken tomatoes.

What was the difference in both cases? The poor vegetable man didn’t have a refrigerator to store his vegetables so he is forced to sell it fast or suffer the loss. In the second case the shop owner had a refrigerator where Coca-Cola was written all over it. This difference is not as simple as we imagine, according to minister we are losing around 40% of perishable items we are producing (It is another matter that last week a senior central government official argued that the loss is around 20% only).

It looks like government suddenly heard the alarm bell somewhere and finally woke up. Recently Planning Commission Vice Chairman stated that efficient food distribution can save 7000Cr. He also added that, technology will ensure efficient management of supply chain and grievance redressed. It was in 2010, ‘National Spot Exchange’, in its study on Cold Chain Grid in India recommended for the need of robust cold chain infrastructure to reduce the post harvest losses. Finally government decoded to establish National Centre for Cold Chain (NCCD) as a registered society having membership of all stakeholders in PPP (Public Private Partnership) with a corpus fund of 25Cr. Recently State Food Ministers meet which resolved to modernize PDS, also decided to create modern storage facilities.

But are these the only solutions for the problem? If I can rephrase the question will this solution will solve the problem completely? There is no doubt that the creation of storage chains will help the perishable to item to reach the distant markets, last long in the same place and reduce the wastage. The cold storage chain constructed by the government (or through PPP) may help us to store more vegetables and grains for a longer period of time, in other words we can save ourselves from dumping the huge amount of rotten vegetables on the road sides.

No doubt that it will be very much useful in the case of grains. But we have to think about how far it will able to help the common man who sells the vegetables or other perishable items? The mass storage is suitable for export and sending the items over long distances. But at the end of the supply chain it will depend on what the vegetable man on the street have at his disposal. After all you can’t go to a hypermarket on every other day.

I think while we are discussing about problems of highly distributed and complex problems we should look for the simple solutions first. For example how it is implemented by market forces? Why we can drink a Maza every other day and not able to eat mango in the off-season? Why the cold Red Bull, Pepsi, Tropicana are always available but not the vegetables?

Well the credit goes to the small refrigerators placed in the different stores which bear the pictures of cricketers and the famous brand names like Thumps Up, Coca-Cola etc. Isn’t it an adoptable idea for our central planners? Along with setting up cold storage chains isn’t better for the NCCD to loan small amounts to the shop owners to have their own cold storage systems, at least on a pilot basis on any second tier cities? I don’t think the egg Lorries coming from Namakkal will go first for a cold storage in Bangalore city and then all the vegetable shop owners will buy the items from there. Please note that I am not saying it will not happen, but along with that we need the terminal storage facilities also so that the shop owner need not have to throw out his priced tomatoes!!!


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

The fall and fall of India's industrial growth

National Fertilizers Limited, Panipat
Some days back, one of my friends forwarded me a mail, the subject was - Do you want to walk in between the ship wrecks? I opened the mail and looked in to the pictures - it’s about Aral Sea which ended up as desert because of mammoth water diversion projects in the rivers feeding the Sea. Another day, there was a news paper report on a ghost town - cities which are abandoned by industry as well as people. These two were the images came to my mind while I was reading about India's falling industrial output and growth rates. We may not have any ghost towns - thanks to our huge population. Of course, you can complain that the comparison is not proper but not totally off-topic.

It’s not long time back, I wrote about the fall of IIP (Index of Industrial Production) in April – September 2011. The decline of IIP in last December replayed this continuing saga once again but in a tragic way. The general index for the December 2011 is just 1.8% higher compared to the level in the month of December 2010. According to the reports, the growth rates in Mining, Manufacturing and Electricity sectors for December 2011 are -3.7%, 1.8% and 9.1% as compared to December 2010.

Growth in manufacturing output is 1.8% compared to 8.7% in 2010 same month. Factory growth also slipped in to a lower level in December 2011 compared to 5.94% in November and 8.1% in December 2010.  More or less same story repeats in Mining sector, Basic good sector etc. Capital Goods sector witnessed a staggering 16.5% contraction compared to the growth of 20.2% in previous year's same month. Interestingly, compared to the same month in the previous year tobacco products registered a 24.3% growth, Cigarettes alone showed an explosive growth of 48.0%!!!

Where we are heading, after being called as an emerging country for the last two decades are we again slipping in to contraction? We should not consider the growth rates as granted. In fact we are still in the middle of a long marathon, which doesn’t have any end, but rewards will be given to the people who are keeping the pace or atleast not sleeping in the middle.

We can accuse everyone for the slump in growth rate - to recession, sluggish growth in US, struggling European economy, Somalian pirates to the electrical line man who took more time to solve the electricity connection to a manufacturing plant. But will it create any sympathy, no. We are no longer considered as a third world power who is begging for food> Unfortunately the truth is we are not also the industrial power house whose ports are always busy in exporting the manufactured products and transhipments. We are somewhere in between, and we should always remember that.

So for the policy makers in New Delhi should take time to explore the solutions for saving the dying industrial towns like Kanpur, opening the closed borders of north east (for trade with SE Asia) and propagate our trade all over the world. If today we are doing well, tomorrow somebody will listen to our voice in international forums otherwise it will end up as the stray thoughts of an outsider!!!


Some other disappointing news: BIFR urged to speed up revival of 44 textile mills
555 textile mills closed in four States in Oct

Photo Courtesy: National Fertilizers Limited, India

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

DRDO's Successful Test of Interceptor Missile

Advanced Air Defence Missile

Interceptor capability is required for the defence of land from the attack of incoming missiles, especially ICBM (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles), which otherwise will create so much destruction in the land.

According to the reports, DRDO's Air Defence Missile (AAD-05) successfully hit the ballistic missile (modified Prithvi missile mimicking the ballistic missile) and destroyed it at a height of 15kms near Wheelers Island. During the flight on-board computer guided the missile and on-board radio frequency seeker identified the target system. Test was success as the missile hit the target.

Still we have to remember about the controversies related to the success rate of PATRIOT system during the Operation Desert Storm (First Gulf War), even thought it showed better success rates during Operation Iraqi Freedom (Second Gulf War). In many cases the speed of ICBM are too much for a tactical ABM (Anti Ballistic Missiles)'s. What we have to look forward is to achieve the capabilities of Russian A-135 systems or US Ground Based Mid-Course Defence (GMD).

This is certainly a good step in the way to achieve and deploy full Air Defence System for our cities. DRDO's achievement made us the fifth country in the world to have these capabilities.


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia - Picture is for the first test of AAD on 6th Dec 2007

Friday, February 3, 2012

Inland Waterway Transport - Not a Luxury but a necessity

Sukleswar ghat in Guwahati - Brahmaputra
The recent progress in developing Inland Waterways are very much promising. Traversable waterways, both in India and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, are critical for the development.

Primarily there are four advantages in developing waterways.

1. In a highly populated country like India, widening roads are not an easy option. Navigable rivers - although limited - will not only provide an alternated mode of transport, but absorb some 20-25% of long distance cargo traffic.
2. Projects like Kaladan Multipurpose project (Myanmar) or similar designs through Bangladesh will give much needed sea exposure for our landlocked North-Eastern states.
3. These waterways will boost our trade with neighbouring countries.
4. We have to develop coast-to-coast shipping facilities also. This will not only reduce the chaos in highways but also bring down the transportation cost. Foreign exchange through trans-shipment is an added advantage.

Where we stand now?
Currently we have five National Waterways (NW), one more will open soon

NW 1: Allahabad to Haldia (Ganges–Bhagirathi–Hooghly river system), length 1620km, with three fixed terminals and fifteen floating terminals.
NW 2: Sadiya — Dhubri (Brahmaputra River System), length 891km, with one fixed terminal and nine floating terminals.
NW 3: Kottapuram - Kollam (West Coast Canal, Champakara Canal and Udyogmandal Canal), length 205km with nine fixed terminals.
NW 4: Kakinada – Pondicherry (Canals and the Kaluvelly Tank), Bhadrachalam – Rajahmundry (Godavari River), Wazirabad – Vijayawada (Krishna River), with a total length of 1095km.
NW 5: Talcher–Dhamra (Brahmani River), Geonkhali - Charbatia (East Coast Canal), Charbatia–Dhamra (Matai river) and Mangalgadi - Paradip (Mahanadi River Delta) with a total length of 623km.
NW 6 - Proposed - Lakhipur to Bhanga (Barak River) with a length of 121km.

These numbers are nowhere close to our potential. Cargo movement through Inland water transport in India is negligible compared to other countries. For e.g. USA.

Current Improvements

It is in this background we have to analyze the recent decision by central government to facilitate the movement of bulk cargo by partnering with Private sector.

According to the tripartite agreement between NTPC, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and private sector, "NTPC will provide long term cargo commitment for 3 million metric tons of coal for 'Barh power project' once all its five units are operational by 2016-17". Private sector will invest around 650 Crores.

On the lines of NTPC, Food Corporation of India (FCI), Container Corporation of India (CCI) and ONGC will also give bulk cargo commitment to Inland Waterways Authority. According to the decisions, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Shipping (MoS) will provide necessary help if required.

This coordinated measure is certainly a good step. The long term commitments on bulk cargo from Public Sector giants will make the waterways project attractive for private sector. If mining giants like Coal India Limited (CIL), National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and private Companies like Tata Steel etc ready to commit a portion of their cargo transport through waterways, it will provide necessary momentum for the project.

What we need to do further?

We often focus on land and Rail transport; in the rush for developing these two we forget the importance of developing, cheaper, Port to Port (P2P) shipping. Possibilities in this area are very high, thanks to our vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

We already have a number of natural and manmade ports throughout our coastal belt. In Western coast, we have major and minor ports like Candla, Porbandar, Diu, Mumbai, Mormugao, Karwar, Mangalore, Kochi etc. In eastern side we have Toothukudi, Chennai, Vizhakapatnam, Paradip, Haldia etc. These facilities combined with Chittagong, Yangon (for North Eastern India) will certainly reduce the cost, duration etc for the transportation of bulk cargo like Coal, Fertilizers, food grains, Fly ash, containers and other project cargo.

Developing waterways will also give much needed space for our National Highways. Consider a shipping line from Kochi to Mumbai, with terminals at Mangalore, Karwar, Murmagao; this will certainly take a good portion of bulk cargo traffic off the Konkon coast. As the amount of cargo is increasing day by day and the possibility of widening the roads are becoming difficult, this is certainly an option worth trying.

Inland waterways transport plus Port to port shipping will be a boon for our major ports also, which are suffering due to the poor linkage with hinterland production centres. We are blessed with our location at the head of Indian Ocean and long coast line, let's use this bless of nature to develop our nation further.