India has a coastline spanning about 7,500 km, forming one of the biggest peninsulas in the world. Around 90 per cent of India’s external trade by volume and 70 per cent by value are handled by ports. Despite being the most cost-effective and efficient mode, water transport accounted for 6 per cent of freight transport in India in 2016-17. India aims at doubling the share of freight transported by coastal shipping and inland waterways from 6 per cent in 2016-171 to 12 per cent by 2025. The Government also intends to increase the port handling capacity to 2,500 million metric tonnes (MMT) by 2022-23.
In a major step towards achieveing this, the Ministry of Shipping has decided to waive waterway usage charges with immediate effect considering the Government of India’s vision to promote inland waterways as a supplementary, eco-friendly and cheaper mode of transport. The charges are waived initially for three years. Shipping Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya said that currently only 2% of total cargo traffic moves through waterways. Decision of waiving waterway charges will attract the industries to use the national waterways for their logistical needs. As the mode of transport is eco-friendly and cheaper, it will not only reduce the burden on other transport modes but also promote the ease of doing business.
Water usage charge was applicable on use of all the national waterways by vessels. It was a hindrance in administration of traffic movement and collection of traffic data. Presently, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) levies the waterway usage charges at a rate of Rs 0.02 per gross registered tonnage (GRT) per kilometer for plying of Inland cargo vessels and Rs. 0.05 per gross registered tonnage (GRT) per kilometer for plying of Cruise vessels on national waterways. The decision is estimated to increase the inland waterway traffic movement to 110 MMT in 2022-23 from 72 MMT in 2019-20. It will benefit the economic activities and development in the region.
On the other hand, to ease communication woes of Assam, Inland Waterways Authority of India, Ministry of Shipping will provide Assam four new state-of-the-art “Ro-Pax” vessels. The Transport Department, Government of Assam is in constant touch with the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India and on the State’s request, Inland Waterways Authority of India, Ministry of Shipping will deliver Assam four new state-of-the-art “Ro-Pax” vessels – built by Cochin Shipyard Ltd. The new Ro-Pax vessels have a capacity of 200 passengers and along with these, can carry 2 trucks and 4 cars. These vessels have low draft, good maneuverability in comparison to the earlier Ro-Ro vessels which had less maneuverability due to bigger size and high draft for which it faced difficulty in plying over River Brahmaputra.
In another move, the State of Tripura has readied a floating jetty on River Gomati in Sonamura of Sipahijala district, 60 Km from Agartala, as part of the Indo-Bangla international inland waterways connectivity project, in three weeks. The jetty, which would connect Sonamura with Daudkandi of Bangladesh, was recently included in the list of Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes signed between High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das and Bangladesh Shipping Secretary Md. Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury at Dhaka on May 20. According to plan, small boats and ferries capable of carrying 50 ton goods would start moving through this route to Bangladesh soon and via the neighboring soul, to rest of India and beyond.
The plan included dredging the riverbed of Gomati to make way for small ships and boats from Sonamura till Ashuganj river port of Bangladesh during the winters. However, testing for the waterway route would be done in this monsoon itself. India has 20 Integrated Check Posts, half of which are on the eastern boundary with Bangladesh. Tripura shares 856 Km long international borderline with Bangladesh, only after West Bengal which has 2,216.7 Km international boundary with the country.
The focus that Indian Government has laid on Inland waterways can become a vital and cost-effective component of multimodal connectivity. This mode would also sustain shared riverine ecology and ensure sustainable development and livelihood generation for people. “Inland water transport is certain to strengthen the integration of supply chains and logistics sectors in India. On the other hand, this would spur investments in logistics and boosting employment generation,” a senior official of the Shipping Ministry said.