When MV R N Tagore docked recently at Varanasi, having covered 1,380 km over 10 days on the Ganga, the container vessel that began its journey at Haldia in West Bengal marked a first in India’s history. The occasion saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the country’s first multi-modal terminal at Varanasi.
The multi-modal terminal is a part of the Inland Waterway Authority of India’s (IWAI’s) Jal Marg Vikas project to develop the river stretch between Varanasi and Haldia for navigation of large vessels — the `5,369-crore project is being funded by the Centre and the World Bank. The project on the Ganga (National Waterway-1) is one of the 111 inland waterway projects notified by the Centre to boost freight movement through the eco-friendly and cheap inland waterway mode. Significantly, though transporting a tonne of freight over 1 km costs `2.28 by road, `1.41 by rail and `1.19 through waterways, just 0.5% of freight moves through inland waterways in India at present.
The infrastructural interventions envisaged to facilitate the movement of large vessels (up to 1,500-2,000 tonne weight) along the Ganga waterway include the creation of three multimodal terminals — at Varanasi, Sahibganj, and Haldia — three intermodal terminals— at Ghazipur, Kalughat, and Triveni—one new navigation lock (Farakka), works for fairway development, a river information system (RIS), vessel repair and maintenance facilities (Doriganj), warehouses, customs clearance facilities, boarding and lodging facilities, and five Roll On-Roll Off (RO-RO) crossings to help vehicles shift seamlessly from road to river mode and vice versa.
The multimodal terminal inaugurated at Varanasi cost `169.70 crore to build. The second terminal coming up at Sahibganj in Jharkhand is likely to be ready by June, 2019, costing `280.90 crore, and the third one at Haldia, costing `517 crore, is expected to be ready by January, 2020. While the cargo handling capacity of the Varanasi terminal is estimated at 0.58 MTPA, the state-of-the-art terminal at Sahibganj would allow for 2.24 MTPA and the Haldia terminal, 3.18 MTPA.
The IWAI has also awarded the contract for construction of a new navigation lock at Farakka, at a cost of `359.19 crore. “The existing navigation lock at Farakka, providing the link between the Bhagirathi-Hooghly system and the Ganga, limits the size of vessels that can transit through it,” says an IWAI official, explaining the need for a new navigation lock.
Maintaining a river depth necessary for 1,500-2,000 tonne vessels is another challenge the project faces, and IWAI has to ensure least assured depth (LAD) of 3 metres from Haldia to Barh, 2.5 m from Barh to Ghazipur and 2.2 m from Ghazipur to Varanasi and a channel width of 45 m, to allow commercial navigation of vessels. To overcome the unique navigation challenges the Ganga throws up, the IWAI has signed a contract with DST, Germany to design vessels specially suited to the waterway.
The six cargo terminals on the Ganga have the potential to evolve into thriving logistics hubs, creating jobs in one of the poorest and most populous parts of the country. The Ganga waterway is a part of the larger multi-modal transport network being developed with the Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor and the region’s network of highways as its other components. At present, cargo from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh takes circuitous land routes to reach the sea ports of Mumbai in Maharashtra and Kandla in Gujarat, rather than going to the much-closer port in Kolkata. The development of NW-1 would help direct this freight to the Kolkata-Haldia complex, reducing logistics costs, which account for 12-13% of India’s GDP, as against 7-8% in developed countries.