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Editorial:Importance of Waterways in Nation Building

Port Wings, 03 January 2018

In the backdrop of Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari flagging off cargo movement on the Pandu-Dhubri route of the Brahmaputra River on 29 December, it can be easily said about the priority of the government — utilizing waterways in national building.

Waterways are also an important means of transportation. Centuries ago our ships have been sailing to the Eastern and Western countries for trade. India has a long coastline of about 5700 kilometers. Ships carry large quantities of cotton, cement, iron-ore, jute, manganese and other forms of produce to other countries of the world.

As acquisition of land for national and State highways becomes scarce and the cost of construction of roads, flyovers and bridges goes up, the government is now exploring using water as a means of public transportation.

With the enactment of the National Waterways Act, 2016, the total number of national waterways is now 111. But providing infrastructure such as jetties, terminals, and navigational channels continues to pose a challenge.

Water transportation is receiving significant attention in recent times since logistics cost in India is one of the highest among major countries – it is 18% in India versus 8-10% in China and 10-12% in European Union.

India has an extensive network of inland waterways in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. The total navigable length is 14,500 km, out of which about 5,200 km of the river and 4,000 km of canals can be used by mechanized crafts.

India has a large network of water bodies in the form of rivers, Lakes, Canals and backwaters. These long waterways are provides a good mode of transport across the cities as well as towns, like backwaters of Kerala, Canals in Gujarat and few waterways in Goa, West Bengal and  Assam.

Freight transportation by waterways is highly under-utilized in India compared to other large countries and geographic areas like the United States, China and the European Union. The total cargo moved (in tonne kilometres) by the inland waterway was just 0.1% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the 21% figure for United States. Cargo transportation in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala.

Water transport is not only environment-friendly but also cheaper than other modes of transport. It takes lesser time to transport cargo by waterways and the chances of congestion and accidents on highways are eliminated. There is a huge potential for domestic cargo transportation as well as for cruise, tourism and passenger traffic.

There is huge potential for public private partnership (PPP) led investments in dredging, construction, operation and maintenance of barges, terminals, storage facilities, and navigation, as well as tourism.

National waterways provide a cost-effective, logistically efficient and environment-friendly mode of transport, whose development as a supplementary mode would enable diversion of traffic from over-congested roads and railways. Hence, the waterways project deserves better regulation and development across the country.

Still these inland waterways are un-utilized in India as compare to other countries in the world, Inland Waterways Authority of India is working on new projects for waterways and better water transportation in India.

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