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.



  1. Nowadays, almost countries are trying to improve their Inland water transport service more better because it is becoming a very powerful way of the transportation system. We can also say, an inland water transportation is the alternative way of the transportation system. This article will definitely improve our knowledge about inland water transportation.
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  2. Water transportation provides tremendous advantages to improve transportation system. Water transportation is very beneficial because it takes less energy than all other transportation ways.

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