The Centre is preparing a multimodal transport hub plan to integrate roads, railways, air and water ports.
The Centre has identified 106 more inland waterways, in addition to the existing five, for development as National Waterways.
Speaking recently at an industry event in New Delhi, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping, termed this ambitious plan of the government for ports-led industrialisation as a 'game changer'. The exercise is going to be part of the government's proposal for a multimodal transport hub plan that seeks to integrate major modes of transport such as roads, railways, air and water ports.
'We have decided to turn 111 rivers into inland waterways. We are building river ports, which will be like bus stands and railway stations,' said Gadkari. 'We are building 40 water ports including three multimodal hubs on the 1,620-kilometre stretch of the River Ganga between Varanasi and Haldia. ,' he added.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and Shipping is targeting to implement Rs 25 lakh crore worth of projects in five years. Of these, Rs 15 lakh crore will be in the roads sector and Rs 10 lakh crore in the shipping sector.
'We have plans to build 12 major seaports and 200 ports on 111 rivers, which makes the total length of waterways to 20,000 kilometres. So, it (the cruise plan) will be an advantage for water transport,' said Gadkari.
A swanky passenger terminal is coming up in Mumbai at a cost of Rs 8 billion. Agreements have already been inked with 60 cruise operators for the same.
Gadkari said that government ports were performing exceptionally well recording a profit of Rs 6,000 crore in 2016 and projected a profit of Rs 7,000 crore in 2017. Speaking on the development of automobile hubs near ports, the minister said that this will lead to a growth of 22 per cent for the automobile sector and costs will come down to 25 to 26 per cent.
However, industry stakeholders feel the right intent has to be continuously matched with good planning, delivery and operations. Opines PSS Prasad, President, Apollo LogiSolutions, 'The planning and prioritisation of infrastructure projects typically fall under state jurisdiction in India, with Central government approval. We would suggest that there be a single window process for planning and approval. In addition to these, faster dispute resolution and simpler land-acquisition processes are also the need of the hour.'
Industry experts point out that going forward, economic viability lies in logistics, road amenities, tourism, bus ports, water ports and multimodal hubs. Waterways, especially, are expected to be a significant game changer as they would help reduce the cost of transportation for goods and passengers, decongest roadways, as well as play a vital role in pollution control. This is also expected to give a boost to riverine tourism. Plans are already afoot to introduce sea planes, hovercraft and amphibious buses to promote the use of inland waterways.
- Manish Pant