Inland Waterways

Inland Waterways

This article deals with ‘Inland Waterways– UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Economics’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


  • India has one of the longest navigable inland water networks. But out of the total 15,000 kilometres of a navigable river, India is currently using just 2000 km
  • West Bengal has the longest navigable length of rivers, followed by Assam and Bihar.
  • Inland waterways Transport constitutes just 0.5% of the total cargo transport. In China, 47% of goods and passenger traffic is transported through inland waterways. Whereas in India, domestic transport through water is 3.5%, out of which 0.5 % is inland & 3% is coastal.
Inland Waterways
  • According to a government study, one litre of fuel moves 24 tons/km on the road, 95 tons/km on rail and 215 tons/km on inland waterways.
Efficiency of Inland Waterways

Benefits of Inland Waterways

  1. It is cheaper than Road and Railways and costs 1/5th compared to road transport. 
  2. The Carbon footprint is also lower than road and rail systems.
  3. Land acquisition requirements are almost negligible compared with roads and railways. 
  4. The infrastructure that needs to be developed is minimal.
  5. There is also little scope for transit losses.
  6. It will open up considerable investment in the areas like water-based tourism, dredging of rivers, and operation of terminals generating millions of new jobs.

Main challenges

  1. Dredging: Inland navigation requires a water depth of 3 m & in most of the stretches of Ganga designated as NW1, it is not more than 2 m. Hence, regular dredging and repair are needed.
  2. Variability of water during the lean season impacts the operations.
  3. Oil spills & noise pollution can harm river ecology. E.g., the NW-1 project harming Gangetic dolphins. 
  4. Several rivers meander, increasing the distance to be travelled compared to road and rail.  
  5. On many rivers, bridges with low vertical clearance impede the passage of bigger vessels.
  6. To be viable, the water transport projects will need to have assured two-way commodity traffic. Bulk goods, like coal, minerals, foodgrain and fertilizer, are usually unidirectional, requiring the vessels to return empty or under-loaded. 

National Inland Waterways 

National Inland waterway Length (km)
Allahabad-Haldia stretch of the Ganga- Bhagirathi- Hooghly river system 1620 (longest)
Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of Brahmaputra river 891 
Kollam-Kottappuram stretch on Champakara canal and Udyogmandal canal 205
Kakinada-Puducherry stretch of Canals (on Godavari and  Krishna and Canals) 1078 
Talcher-Dhamra stretch (Brahmani river) 588
Lakhipur Bhanga on Barak River, Assam  121
National Inland Waterways

National Waterway Act, 2016

  • Inland Waterways, Shipping and Navigation, are covered in Entry 24 of the Union list. Hence, Parliament is empowered to legislate on this.
  • This act repealed all earlier Acts for individual waterways, and 111 National Waterways have been notified under the provisions of this act. 
  • Working National Waterways
    1. National Waterway 1: Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly River System
    2. National Waterway 2: Brahmaputra River
    3. National Waterway 3: Kollam-Kottappuram stretch on Champakara canal and Udyogmandal canal
    4. National Waterway 68: Mandovi
    5. National Waterway 97: Sundarbans Waterways
    6. National Waterway 111: Zuari

Jal Marg Vikas Project

  • This project aims to develop infrastructure to enable National Waterway 1 for commercial navigation on the Varanasi-Haldia stretch of river Ganga.
  • In 2018, the Varanasi freight terminal became operational when the cargo ship ‘MV Rabindranath Tagore’ arrived in Varanasi from Kolkata.

Ways to Finance

  • The government is using the corpus of the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) and Central Roads Fund  (CRF) for upgrading the Inland Waterways.
  • Apart from that, the market borrowing route is also used. 

Inland Vessels Bill, 2021

The bill will replace the Inland Vessel Act 1917.

Provisions of the bill include

  • To operate in inland waters, vessels must have a certificate of survey and registration.
  • The bill will bring all inland vessels & waterways in India under union government regulation.    
  • Mechanical vessels must have certain equipment and signals to ensure safe navigation.
  • In case of an SOS signal is sent by the vessel, the nearest vessel must respond to the call and failure to respond can result in a fine of up to Rs. 10,000.
  • In case of an accident, the nearest police station will hold the jurisdiction for the inquiry.
  • The Centre will prescribe the rules for the minimum qualification of the crew.

Bodies related to Inland Waterways

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) 

  • IWAI was created in 1986.
  • Function: Regulatory body for Inland waterways
  • Headquartered in Noida.

Central inland Water Transport Corporation Ltd (CIWTC)

  • CIWTC was incorporated in 1967 by taking over all the assets of the erstwhile River Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.
  • It regulated the Inland Water Transport between India and Bangladesh.
  • Headquartered in Kolkata.

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