With the development of national waterways being an integral part of the Centre’s plan to upgrade transport infrastructure in the country, work is afoot on National Waterway-1 (NW-1) linking Haldia to Allahabad. The projects on the river Ganga will boost the economies of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Under the National Waterways Act of 2016, the government has committed to developing 111 designated national waterways. Of these, NWs-1, 2, & 3 are partially operational. The national waterways would not only reduce logistics costs, but also lessen congestion on the road and rail networks, having a multiplier effect on the Indian economy.
Work on NW-1 had been pending since 1990 due to hurdles posed by siltation. The shipping ministry has finally pushed the development of the Haldia-Varanasi stretch (1620 km) with projects for construction of multi-modal terminals at Varanasi, Haldia and Sahibganj, strengthening of the river navigation system, conservancy works, and development of information systems and night navigation facilities, besides construction of a navigational lock at Farakka.
Amitabh Verma, till recently the chairman of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), says “the Prime Minister’s project monitoring group is looking at the work on a day-to-day basis and all projects have to be completed in a time-bound manner.”
Full operationalisation of the Haldia-Varanasi stretch would allow the navigation of vessels with a capacity of 1,500-2,000 tonnes, he says. The development of the waterway, expected to cost Rs 4,200 crore, has been taken up with assistance from the World Bank.
Construction work for the multi-modal terminals at Haldia, Sahibganj and Varanasi has commenced. The terminal at Haldia would become a hub for transportation of cargo to the North East. The terminal, according to Verma, has already received a commitment of 5.92 million tonne per annum of cargo once it becomes operational in 2018. IWAI also plans to build a new navigational lock and modernise the existing one at Farakka.
The terminal at Sahibganj in Bihar would further the transportation of coal to power plants. The terminal is expected to be operational by 2018. This project, according to IWAI officials, would help in the de-siltation of the river.
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In Bihar, the IWAI also envisages investment in terminals at Kalughat and Gaighat, ferry and RO-RO services and dredging. The Kalughat terminal would boost transportation of cargo from Kolkata to Nepal, reducing costs by 26% and 13% compared to the railways and road, respectively. An analysis by the World Bank has concluded that the project would lead to extensive economic and social development along the banks of the Ganga in Bihar.
Work on the multi-modal terminal at Varanasi (Ramnagar) commenced in August 2016. Estimated to cost R170 crore, it is
expected to be operational by August 2018.
The NW-1 projects are expected to create 1,60,000 direct and indirect jobs, Nitin Gadkari, union minister of shipping, has said. Besides being cheaper to develop than railways and roadways, waterways cost 25-30 paise per km of transport, as against R1 for railways and R1.50 for roadways. From the abysmal 3.5% at present, IWAI is aiming to increase waterway transportation of cargo in India to 15% by 2019. Even this would be low compared to countries like China, South Korea, UK, Germany, France where it is in the range of 35%-40%.