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  • Posted December 2, 2013 by
    Innisfil, Ontario

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    Policy deadweight clogs India’s waterways

    Inland waterways: India is endowed with waterways with an aggregate length of 14,500 km comprising rivers, lakes, canals and backwaters. They offer a safe, eco-friendly and economic mode of transporting heavy cargo where speed is not a critical factor. Even a relatively small shift in cargo volume from other modes to inland waterways will reduce dependency of imported petroleum products. Rivers were preferred mode of travel and transporting cargo in pre-modern India. But automobiles and railways have weaned away most inland water traffic since the 19th century. In the 1950s, the Government applied itself to reviving water traffic. A conference of North Eastern States was convened in April, 1951 which resulted in the formation of a Brahmaputra Water Transport Board in 1952.
    Interlinking of rivers: In 1956, the erstwhile Central Water and Power Commission had drawn up an ambitious plan to a) link Ganga and the Narmada to provide continuous waterway from West Coast b) connect Narmada and Godavari c) linking Tapti with Godavari via Wardha d) linking Ganga with Mahanadi via Son river and e) providing continuous inland coastal waterway connecting Calcutta with Cochin via Kanya Kumari. An Inland Water Transport Committee was set up under the chairpersonship of BK Gokhale in February, 1957. It submitted its recommendation to the erstwhile Ministry of Transport and Communications in 1959.
    CAG reviews poor progress: But thanks to unimaginative policies, the results have fallen short of expectations in the last 60 years. The CAG audit (Report No.9 of 2010-11) observes that Inland Water Transport (IWT) could not develop its full potential due to several constraints like insufficient water depth of major rivers, non-availability of navigational aids, inadequate terminal facilities etc. Developing IWT could catalyse industrial growth, promote economic activities in the hinterland and decongest the road and rail traffic.
    National waterways: There are five waterways which have been declared National Waterways (NWs). The Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system (Allahabad-Haldia-1620 km) was declared NW- 1 in 1986. River Brahmaputra (Dhubri-Sadiya-891 km) in Assam was declared NW-2 in 1988. West Coal Canal (Kottapuram-Kollam) along with Udyogmandal and Champakara Canals (250 km) in Kerala was declared as NW-3 in 1993. Kakinada-Pudhucherry canals with Godavari and Krishna rivers (1078 km) across Andha Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry was declared as NW-4 in 2008. East Coast Canal integrated with Brahmani river and Mahanadi delta rivers (588 km) in West Bengal and Odisha was declared NW-5 in 2008. The aggregate cargo movement volume (in million tonnes) on these National Waterways was 3.42 in 2010-11, 5.53 in 2011-12, and 4.51 (Provisional) in 2012-13.
    Meager share in cargo transport: This is not more than 0.15 per cent of total cargo transportation in India. The share of cargo movement by inland waterways is substantially high in several countries. As per FICCI’s finding, it is 32 per cent in Bangladesh, 20 in Germany, 14 in the USA and nine in China. Even in Kerala, despite its tradition of inland water transport, cargo traffic has shifted substantially to other modes in the last decade.
    UPA withdraws NDA era support: During the NDA rule, a Centrally-sponsored scheme in IWT sector, in existence since the First Five Year Plan, was liberalized. Since November 2002, cent per cent grant-in-aid was extended to North Eastern States and 90 per cent grant-in-aid to other States. Under the UPA Government, in February 2007, Planning Commission discontinued the scheme but retaining the grant for North Eastern States only. Field visits by the CAG team to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha revealed that many projects had not achieved their intended objectives and there were several cases of futile expenditures.
    PMO and the PSUs: In January, 2012, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) stepped in to speed up the development of the IWT sector. The two-pronged approach visualized was a) encouraging Public-private Partnership and b) asking Public Sector Units (PSU) to commit a part of their cargo to IWT. The NTPC agreed to provide long-term cargo commitments of three million tonnes of coal for Barh power project (Bihar) once all its five units were functional in 2016-17. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) also committed three-year commitment of food grains to Assam from Kolkata and within Assam. The ONGC and Oil India have committed cargo.
    Need to be ‘Water minded”: Utilizing the complete potential of inland waterways is still a pipe dream. Until now, all policy planning has been disjointed. As the Inland Water Transport Committee (1957) has rightly emphasized on the need to be ‘water minded’. “A concerted drive is necessary to make people water minded. Government should encourage water sports, regattas, yacht clubs and organize boat races amongst a number of villages on similar lines to the traditional boat race in Kerala. A great deal of propaganda and publicity is necessary”.
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