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.
- 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.
Benefits of Inland Waterways
- It is cheaper than Road and Railways and costs 1/5th compared to road transport.
- The Carbon footprint is also lower than road and rail systems.
- Land acquisition requirements are almost negligible compared with roads and railways.
- The infrastructure that needs to be developed is minimal.
- There is also little scope for transit losses.
- 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.
- 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.
- Variability of water during the lean season impacts the operations.
- Oil spills & noise pollution can harm river ecology. E.g., the NW-1 project harming Gangetic dolphins.
- Several rivers meander, increasing the distance to be travelled compared to road and rail.
- On many rivers, bridges with low vertical clearance impede the passage of bigger vessels.
- 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 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
- National Waterway 1: Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly River System
- National Waterway 2: Brahmaputra River
- National Waterway 3: Kollam-Kottappuram stretch on Champakara canal and Udyogmandal canal
- National Waterway 68: Mandovi
- National Waterway 97: Sundarbans Waterways
- 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.