Utilising the full potential of rivers for transport of goods by developing inland waterways has been one of the big agenda of Modi government in the last three years. On a number of occasions in past, PM Modi has extolled the virtue of waterways and the economic benefits they can bring to the country. It is a known fact that transport of goods on water is far more cost-efficient than by roads or railways. So far, India has lagged behind in developing its waterways. But in the last three years, Modi government has moved swiftly to create waterways. In March last year, the government also got the National Waterways Act, 2016 passed by both Houses of the Parliament, despite opposition and some genuine ecological concerns over the project raised by some members.
The Act paved the way for the creation of 111 National Riverways across the country. According to Union Transport and Shipping Minister, Nitin Gadkari, 10 out of total 111 proposed waterways are to become operational by the end of 2018. Not only this, the government also plans to connect India and Myanmar via Bangladesh through waterways .
A PTI report on Monday quoted Gadkari as saying that operationalising at least 10 of the 111 National Waterways by next year is on top of government’s agenda.
Last week, Centre had approved the allocation of 2.5 per cent of the Central Road Fund (CRF) for National Waterways, resulting in about Rs 2,000 crore proceeds a year for their development. “The Cabinet has approved Rs 2,000 crore from CFR and we can easily get works done worth Rs 12,000 crore from that by raising more funds. It is my endeavour to operationalise 10 waterways before December 2018,” the Shipping, Road Transport and Highways minister told PTI .
The ministry has already undertaken waterways work worth Rs 5,000 crore on river Ganga (1,620 km) with the assistance of World Bank. This is National Waterway No 1, on which the work includes development of three multi-modal hubs at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Haldia in West Bengal and Sahebganj in Bihar.
PTI reports that Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), under the shipping ministry, is also facilitating cruise operations on NW-1 from Kolkata to Varanasi in collaboration with private cruise operators. Apart from NW-1 on river Ganga, development of NW-2 on Brahmaputra is also one of the top agenda of the government. Apart from Ganga and Brahmaputra, the government wants to complete other waterways projects such as on rivers Mandavi, Zuari, Amba, Brahmani between Talcher and Paradip in Odisha etc.
In the next three years, the Shipping ministry plans to start work on 24 National Waterways.
It has been estimated by IWAI that around Rs 25,000 crore would be required for development of identified projects on NWs till 2022-23. Moreover, Inland Water Transport (IWT) sector would also generate around 1.8 lakh jobs in the next 5 years, according to the government.