With the federal government aggressively pushing for development of a robust riverine transport network as part of its multimodal strategy, the sector has witnessed an unparalleled spurt in activity in the recent past.
For instance, out of the 111 identified National Waterways, 106 were conceived in 2016 alone. An assertive Nutan Guha Biswas, Chairperson, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is confident that the statutory agency will continue to exceed its performance in 2018. An Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre, Guha Biswas informs that IWAI is now equally focused on developing a large pool of skilled personnel that will be required for performing a variety of roles in the sector.
What were some of the most significant developments in terms of National Waterways in 2017?
IWAI came into existence in 1986. Since then, the organisation is working towards developing and regulating the inland waterways for shipping and navigation. Under the National Waterways Act, 2016, 111 inland waterways across 24 states have been declared as National Waterways (NW)s, in addition to the existing five, for utilisation as an environment friendly and sustainable mode of transport. However, inland waterways in India remained underdeveloped as a mode of transportation, despite inherent advantages of being fuel efficient and environment friendly, and having the capacity to move large volumes of cargo off the country's congested road and rail network.
Lately, there has been a renewed push by the government to develop inland waterway routes as part of an integrated transport network strategy. The year 2017 was a phenomenal one for inland waterways as we achieved many milestones during its course.
IWAI has allocated close to Rs 2,000 crore worth of works on ground for NW-1 on the River Ganga alone. We are also working extensively for making NW-2, i.e., Brahmaputra which is commercially viable for transportation. NW-3, i.e., the Kerala waterway is functional for cargo transportation. Efforts are now underway to divert traffic from roads to waterways.
In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of IWAI's multimodal terminal at Sahibganj, Jharkhand. The terminal is an important component of the development of NW-1 from Varanasi to Haldia (1,390 km) on the River Ganga as it will link the city with the mineral rich hinterland of the landlocked state of Jharkhand to foreign shores through Bay of Bengal.
In October 2017, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone for the first phase of the 2,890-km NW-4 at Amravati in Andhra Pradesh.
IWAI has also heralded a new promise for growth and employment in the North Eastern region where the Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Nitin Gadkari, along with Chief Minister of Assam, flagged-off regular movement of cement consignments to various destinations on NW-2. It's a confidence building measure. I expect industry will soon realise the advantages of transportation through waterways and, therefore, a substantial modal shift is not far away.
Further, IWAI has carried out joint scoping missions along with the Indian Army and Government of Assam for identifying prospective infrastructural interventions on NW-2. Development of inland water transport (IWT) in the North Eastern region is a high priority for IWAI as it is in line with the Government's focus on improving the means of communication and transportation there and, also, India's Act East Policy. The governments of India and Bangladesh signed an agreement in April 2017 for dredging of critical stretches of Padma and Kushiara rivers in Bangladesh to connect NW-2 and NW-16 (River Barak) to NW-1 at Haldia, and also connect the land locked North East to Kolkata, Haldia, Mongla and Chittagong ports.
Are you satisfied with the pace?
Yes, I am! Our projects involve a whole lot of clearances and coordination with various state governments as well as agencies and departments at the centre. As cited in my previous reply, we have achieved many milestones and have set high standards when it comes to infrastructure development. We are working on improving the transport modal mix in the country. Inland waterways are a cost effective, environment friendly and seamless mode of transportation for movement of both-freight and passenger traffic. We are working round-the-clock to complete the infrastructural interventions. For example, the Rs 169.59 crore multimodal terminal at Varanasi will be completed by November 2018, as scheduled. Similarly, construction of multimodal terminals at Sahibganj and Haldia, and navigation lock at Farakka are in full swing. In 2018, we are looking forward to further improving our performance.
To what extent have you been able to successfully navigate the dredging infrastructure challenge?
Initially, there were only five national waterways. Now, we have 111 waterways. As we progress in our work of making rivers navigable, we come across many stretches on our national waterways where the required depth of navigation is not available naturally. For inland waterways vessels, we need a depth of 2.2-3 metre in our fairways for transportation of vessels of 1,500 tonne or more capacity. Maintenance dredging is required at select stretches of national waterways wherever there is shoal formation or where the water level is less than the required draft for safe navigation. IWAI has been carrying out departmental dredging to overcome the challenges, wherever they arise.
To associate private sector in the development of infrastructure of IWT sector, IWAI has conducted stakeholders' conferences in Guwahati, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar, Kolkata and Vijayawada. The industry is looking at this as one of the promising sectors. However, development of any new sector takes time.
For maintenance of fairway, IWAI carries out dredging activity through departmental dredgers and outsourcing to competent and experienced dredging companies.
We are strengthening ourselves by procuring some quick response high-capacity self-propelled dredgers.
You are also working with a team of international consultants on Ferry services on NW-1 and other stretches. How is the response and, also, what are the new routes in the pipeline for 2018 for ferry and Ro-Ro Services?
Ro-Ro services have proved to be excellent solutions in bridging the travel distances between both cargo and passenger movement where the destinations are separated across river banks. Ro-Ro services also help to avoid the circuitous routes via roads. Keeping in mind its effectiveness, IWAI has been working meticulously in developing Ro-Ro infrastructure and identifying new places where they can be started.
On NW-1, IWAI has finalised five pairs of Ro-Ro terminals, namely Rajmahal-Manikchak, Samdaghat-Manihari, Kahalgaon-Tintanga, Bakhtiyarpur-Mahnar and Saraikota-Buxor for movement of passenger vehicles and goods across the river. These Ro-Ro terminals are expected to be functional in FY 2019-20.
On NW-2, IWAI Ro-Ro services between Dhubri and Hatsingimari in the state of Assam having a total waterway length of 29 km is operational from July 1, 2017 on a regular basis. It helps to avoid the circuitous route of 220 kilometres to reach Meghalaya on the opposite side. Other Ro-Ro routes are also being identified on NW-2 for effective connectivity of towns on both sides of Brahmaputra.
IWAI's efforts are not standalone interventions. They are in conjunction with the government's efforts to create better modes of transport and communication for people. It is noteworthy that IWAI has signed a joint venture contract with Thompson Design Group (TDG), Boston and Infrastructure Architecture Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for identifying suitable locations for construction of 18 ferry terminals in six cities, namely, Varanasi, Patna, Munger, Bhagalpur, Kolkata and Haldia on NW-1.
Are the states finally realising the need for setting up their industrial clusters closer to river banks?
IWT holds great promises for growth of business and employment. Recently, states have shown a lot of interest in the inland waterways as it provides a cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport. Support from state governments is æsine qua non' in infrastructure development. The state of Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir have played a very proactive role in the development of IWT in their states. With the support of state governments, development work on NW-1, NW-2 and NW-4 have progressed very well. Multimodal terminals at Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia, and navigational lock at Farakka are in advanced stages of construction. Similarly, dredging work on NW-4 is going on strongly.
A multimodal terminal and logistic park is planned in Jogigopha in Assam on NW-2 along with terminals at Silghat, Neamati and Bogibeel.
To leverage the benefits of waterways, state governments have proposed establishments of logistic and industrial hubs at Varanasi, Sahibganj and Jogigopha. We are looking forward to identifying new places on other NWs where similar logistics hubs can be created.
IWAI raised Rs.660 crore through a successful bond sale. Do you have plans to raise additional funds in the near future?
Development of IWT infrastructure requires huge investments considering the vast network of rivers in India.
We have about 14,500 km of navigable waterways in the country, comprising of rivers, canals, creeks and backwaters.
We have raised Rs 340 crore during the financial year 2016-17 and the balance amount of Rs 660 crore in October 2017. These Extra Budgetary Resources (EBRs) are being utilised by IWAI exclusively for capital expenditure for development of NWs during 2017-18. Besides the EBR fund, the Union Cabinet approved an amendment to the Central Road Fund Act 2000 to allocate 2.5 per cent of funds for the development and maintenance of national waterways, which amounts to nearly Rs 2,000 crore. The bill to this effect has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is under consideration of Rajya Sabha.
Other financial arrangements are also being explored and worked out. For example, on NW-4, we have signed a MoU with the Government of Andhra Pradesh where the state will share 49 per cent of the total development cost of the stretch falling in its territory.
Besides, wherever possible, IWAI is exploring PPP models. One such arrangement has already been entered into with Summit Alliance Port East Gateway India for equipping, operating and managing of Garden Reach (GR) Jetty-1, GR Jetty-2 and BISN in Kolkata, and Kalughat IWT in Patna through an international bidding process.
Development of the IWT sector will lead to the requirement of huge skilled manpower. Is IWAI working towards creating such a skilled workforce?
For development sustenance of any sector, development of skilled manpower is utmost necessary. With expansion of the inland waterways network in the country, requirement of skilled manpower is going to grow manifold.
According to a study conducted by IWAI, approximately 80,000 direct and 1.25 lakh indirect skilled workforce will be required in next three years for various inland water transport works, namely, hydrography, cargo handling, river surveys, dredging, terminal operation, vessel operations, etc. Currently, we have the National Inland Navigation Institute (NINI), Patna, which trains human resource for the IWT sector for development, maintenance and management of waterways. The institute imparts quality training on various aspects such as development & management of waterways, surveying & dredging up waterways, design & construction of terminals, design & construction of vessels, technical & commercial operation of vessels, running of vessels, terminal management, and traffic management. Apart from NINI, there are only a few small training set ups which are run by State Governments.
To meet the skilled manpower requirements relating to the IWT sector, IWAI approached Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship for development of Qualification Packs (QPs) and National Occupational Standards (NOS). A working group formed by the Ministry of Skill Development is working on these proposals. Further, IWAI is planning to set up a National Institute for Inland Waterways at Allahabad and regional training centres at Guwahati and Vijayawada to cater to the emerging requirements.
IWAI is also in the process of setting up of a museum at Noida to educate students and public at large about the historical importance and prospective journey of inland waterways in India.
IWAI has reworked The Inland Vessels Act, 1917 after extensively consulting several stakeholders. Are we likely to see a new Act anytime soon?
The Draft Inland Vessel Bill is in its advanced stage of deliberation among IWAI, Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Law. Once the draft is finalised and approved by the Ministry of Shipping, the same will be forwarded for Cabinet's approval. Thereafter, the bill will be presented to Parliament for deliberation and approval. It may take some more time to complete the process.
- Manish Pant