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  • Context (PIB): The Minister of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways chaired the First Inland Waterways Development Council Meeting, organized by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).

Outcomes in the Council

  • ‘Harit Nauka’ Guidelines and ‘River Cruise Tourism Roadmap 2047’ were launched.
  • The Ministry has set a bold objective to elevate the modal share of Inland Water Transportation (IWT) from the current 2% to 5%, aligning with the goals outlined in Maritime India Vision 2030.
  • The Ministry also aims to substantially increase the existing IWT cargo volume from approximately 120 MTPA (millions of tonnes per annum) to over 500 MTPA.

Inland Waterways Development Council

  • The council was established in October 2023.
  • Objective: Comprehensive development of inland waterways and Inland Water Transport (IWT) ecosystem for improved cargo efficiency, passenger movement, and river cruise tourism.

Maritime India Vision 2030

  • It is a ten-year blueprint for the maritime sector (released in 2020).
  • The vision projects cargo traffic to reach 2,570 mtpa by 2030.
  • It will supersede the Sagarmala initiative.
  • Objective: To boost waterways, boost the shipbuilding industry and encourage cruise tourism.
  • It emphasizes Make in India, Make for the world’.
  • Provides for setting up a Maritime Development Fund for enhancing cruise infrastructure by developing dedicated cruise terminals at 12 selected ports.
  • It will create a Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid that will enhance connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar.

Inland Waterways Authority of India

  • It is an autonomous organization established in 1986 under the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985.
  • It is responsible for regulating & developing inland waterways for shipping & navigation.
  • It undertakes development and maintenance projects of IWT infrastructure on national waterways through grants from the Shipping Ministry.
  • Headquarters: Noida, UP.
  • It also has regional offices in various other cities and towns across the country.

What are Inland Waterways?

  • Inland waterways are navigable water bodies located within the boundaries of a country, typically away from coastal areas.
  • India has about 14500 kilometres of navigable waterways. Despite this, Inland waterways remain underutilized at a share of 2% in India’s modal mix, compared to 35% in Bangladesh.
  • The National Waterways Act, 2016, has identified 111 navigable water courses and declared them “national inland waterways”.

Benefits of Inland Waterways

  • Cost-effective: According to WB, inland waterways in India are 60% cheaper than road transport and 20-30% cheaper than rail transport.
  • Fuel efficiency: Its energy consumption per km/ton of transported goods is approximately 17% of that of road transport and 50% of rail transport.

Inland water transportation

  • Being labor-intensive in nature, it can create employment for personnel for river conservancy & development activities, operation & maintenance of terminals, manning inland vessels, etc.
  • Ecologically sustainable: A study by the World Bank found that inland water transport emits 10 times less carbon dioxide per ton-kilometer compared to road transport in India.
  • Other advantages: Does away with the tiring land acquisition process, leads to the development of tourism along the waterways, and provides boost to associated industries like shipbuilding.

Challenges with Inland waterways

  • Navigational hazards like shallow waters and narrow width of the channel during dry weather, siltation, bank erosion, absence of infrastructure facilities like terminals & inadequacy of navigational aids.
  • Environmental concerns: Dredging activities, construction of barrages, and channelization of rivers, which can impact the ecological balance, water quality, and aquatic life in the surrounding areas.
  • Limited intermodal connectivity between inland waterways, roads, and railways restricts seamless movement of cargo and passengers, hindering the full potential of multimodal transport.
  • Issues of Inter-state coordination in jurisdiction, regulations, taxation, & administrative procedures.
  • Water variability: Diversion of water for irrigation, industrial and other needs reducing the flows in the rivers resulting in the reduction of depth and shoal formation.
  • Excessive silt loads from erosion of uplands due to bad catchment management and increased deforestation.
  • Inadequate vertical and horizontal clearances for plying vessels of economic size in many traditional waterway routes.
  • Lack of adequate terminal facilities at the loading and unloading points being non-existent and where existent being inadequate.
  • Other issues: Challenges associated with land acquisition for infrastructure development, resettlement and compensation, lukewarm private sector participation, & lack of waterways governance framework.

SWOT Analysis of IWT

SWOT Analysis of Inland water transportation

Way Forward

  • Infrastructure development by developing terminals, jetties, and navigation aids, and ensuring proper dredging and maintenance of waterways.
  • Integration with Multi-Modal Transport like roads, railways, and coastal shipping. E.g. Multimodal terminal at Varanasi, connecting National Waterway 1 with the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor has been developed.
  • Revival/operationalization of obsolete jetties to attract private sector participation.
  • Moratorium on levy and collection of waterway usage charges for initial period of 3 years.
  • Design of low-cost and shallow-draft vessels and introduction of navigational aids for improving the economics of IWT.
  • Smaller floating jetties to be monetized through manning contracts.
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