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India’s Inland Water Transport

  • 20 Mar 2023
  • 6 min read

For Prelims: Maritime India Vision 2030, Jal Vikas Marg Project (JVMP), Arth Ganga, Zero Carbon Emission.

For Mains: India’s Inland Water Transport.

Why in News?

Government intends to increase the share of Inland Water Transport (IWT) to 5% as per Maritime India Vision (MIV)-2030.

What is the IWT?

  • About:
    • Inland water transport refers to the transportation of people, goods, and materials via waterways such as rivers, canals, lakes, and other navigable bodies of water that are located within a country's boundaries.
    • IWT is the most economical mode of transportation, especially for bulk cargo like coal, iron ore, cement, food grains and fertilizer. Presently, it remains underutilized at a share of 2% in India’s modal mix.
  • Socio-Economic Benefits of IWT:
    • Cheaper operating cost and relatively lesser fuel consumption
    • Less polluting mode of transportation
    • Lesser requirement of land relative to other modes of transportation
    • More environment friendly mode of transportation
    • Moreover, waterways can be used for recreational purposes such as boating and fishing.

What is the Scope and Challenges of Inland Waterways in India?

  • About:
    • India has an extensive network of inland waterways, including rivers, canals, and backwaters, covering over 20,000 kilometers in length. Inland water transport has enormous potential in India as a mode of transportation for both passengers and cargo.
    • Priority development of National Waterway-1 was undertaken through the Jal Vikas Marg Project (JVMP), which includes Arth Ganga, and they will give an economic boost of Rs 1,000 crore over the next five years.
    • The inland waterways can play a crucial role in realising Prime Minister (PM) vision of making India a zero-carbon emission country by 2070.
  • Challenges:
    • No Navigability throughout the Year:
      • Some rivers are seasonal and do not offer navigability through the year. Around 20 out of the 111 identified national waterways have reportedly been found unviable.
    • Intensive Capital and Maintenance Dredging:
      • All the identified waterways require intensive capital and maintenance dredging, which could be resisted by the local community on environmental grounds, including displacement fears, thereby posing implementation challenges.
    • Other Uses of water:
      • Water also has important competing uses, viz. need for living as well as for irrigation, power generation etc. It would not be possible for the local government/others to overlook these needs.
    • Exclusive Jurisdiction of the Central Government:
      • The exclusive jurisdiction of the Central Government is only in regard to shipping and navigation on inland waterways declared to be ‘national waterways’ by an act of Parliament.
      • Utilisation/sailing of vessels, in other waterways, is within the ambit of the concurrent list or is in the jurisdiction of the respective state governments.

What is Maritime India Vision 2030?

  • About:
    • It is a ten-year blueprint for the maritime sector which was released by the Prime Minister at the Maritime India Summit in November 2020.
    • It will supersede the Sagarmala initiative and aims to boost waterways, give a fillip to the shipbuilding industry and encourage cruise tourism in India.
  • Policy Initiatives and Development Projects:
    • Maritime Development Fund: A Rs. 25,000-crore fund, which will provide low cost, long-tenure financing to the sector with the Centre contributing Rs. 2,500 crores over seven years.
    • Port Regulatory Authority: A pan-India port authority will be set up under the new Indian Ports Act (to replace the old Indian Ports Act 1908) for enabling oversight across major and non-major ports, enhance institutional coverage for ports and provide for structured growth of the ports sector to boost investor confidence.
    • Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid project: It will aim to develop regional connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
    • Riverine Development Fund: Calls for extending low cost, long-term financing for inland vessels with the support of a Riverine Development Fund (RDF) and for extending the coverage of the tonnage tax scheme (applicable to ocean-going ships and dredgers) to inland vessels also to enhance the availability of such vessels.
    • Rationalisation of Port Charges: It will make them more competitive, besides doing away with all hidden charges levied by ship liners to bring in more transparency.
    • Promotion of Water Transport: For decongestion of urban areas, and developing waterways as an alternative means of urban transport.

What are the Related Government Initiatives?

Way Forward

  • With India’s burgeoning population and increasing traffic, the development of inland waterways will not only reduce travel time and ensure a seamless journey for people and goods, be cost-effective, and bring down pollution levels, we can holistically design a policy that factors in safety, infrastructure support, inter-state coordination and integrate with other transportation modes.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q. Enumerate the problems and prospects of inland water transport in India. (2016)

Source: PIB

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