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River-sea navigation will have major activity next year

River-sea navigation will have major activity next year

With seamless coastal-river navigation to State Maritime Boards on the anvil, Indian ports infrastructure, water navigation and allied hinterland industry should see a major leap. Yet, as we await implementation, K Mohandas, Secretary, Union Ministry of Shipping, chats with Infrastructure Today that this may not be the year of sea change, but expects some major inland activity next year onwards.

India Maritime Mission 2020 envisages a quantum leap in river-sea cargo navigation. What is the policy governing it?
River-sea cargo navigation is closely integrated with coastal shipping and the use of the inland waterways. Now, river-sea cargo navigation would specifically mean the movement of cargo from the comparatively still and safe inland waters to coastal waters also. There is a notified River-Sea Navigation Policy, which provides seamless inter-modal mobility between inland and sea transport, and for this purpose, vessel registration requirements have been notified with respect to four types of river-sea vessels. This will facilitate smooth switching over between inland and river-sea vessel and then further between river-sea vessels and sea-going ships. The interface is made smoother with this noti­fication so that the water tide differentiation is done away with. Besides this notification, a policy on coastal shipping has already been drafted and will be announced very soon. This will also facilitate the further development of coastal shipping, river-sea navigation and inland water navigation in this country.

Is the notification a part of the present bill?
River-Sea Vessel notification will be done by the Ministry of Shipping. The technical requirement and manning requirement are already notified. This will reduce congestion at the port level only to a limited ex­tent because congestion at ports is caused by ships that come alongside, and obviously congestion is reduced if ports handle bigger ships with more cargo. This noti­fica­tion will actually reduce the number of ships. It probably will not have a direct impact on port congestion.

What is the current volume of cargo on inland waterways?
According to the figures available in the last financial year (2010-11), 72 million metric tonne of cargo moved through the inland waterways. This is of course only 0.4 per cent of the total cargo movement in the country, with coastal shipping at six per cent, so it is certainly very, very nominal. And of the 72 million metric tonne, a major share was contributed by the movement of iron ore in Goa.

What are the projections for this year?
This year, we are not really envisaging a major change. But next year there is going to be major impact caused by the movement of coal for EPC along the Ganga on ships from barges from the ships up to Farraka Barrage. That will be a major development; 3 mt of coal will be moved and that will be the beginning of major utilisation of Inland Waterway 1 on the Ganga.

What are the specific targets of river-sea, coastal and inland shipping?
We are developing new systems by which we will promote a modal shift of cargo from land based modes to water. This is both in the interest of the economy and the environment. For this, the Coastal Shipping Policy (which is in its draft stage of formulation) proposes several interventions in the form of infrastructure creation and others aimed at increasing the modal share of inland cargo to two per cent by 2020.

What is the roadmap to achieve the above targets? Any suggestion for potential investors?
There will be investment possibilities in the sense that the Coastal Shipping Policy would have possible measures to facilitate seamless movement. Without going into the details of the specific measures such as infrastructure, and whatever incentives possible to promote inland waterways proposed, I can say that this is the most important thing. But, there will be more barges and vessels after inland waterways are proposed; one would be infrastructure and then the incentives and tools to promote inland waterways. There'll also be a mention of the need for more barges and other vessels suitable for inland waterways. So, we will have to work simultaneously on these if we are able to.

Do you believe that adequate numbers of dredging companies are showing interest in this area?  
I do, because there are dredging projects in various ports, and when tenders are invited, we do get acceptable offers. But it remains a fact that the dredging capacity of domestic companies is inadequate. There is great scope for further increasing the dredging capacity owned by Indian companies.

Do you expect foreign dredging companies to play a vital role here?
No, but foreign companies do get the big dredging contacts because the process is through competitive glo­bal bidding. There are also some foreign companies who get into these contracts.

Given that you envisage around 52 per cent business to come from non-major ports, your ministry pays special importance to State Maritime Boards. What function do these maritime boards serve?
As of now, State Maritime Boards have been cons­tituted only in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, but we have been requesting other states also to con­stitute similar maritime boards. This is because the state-level agency can fulfil both the promotional and regu­latory roles that would substantially benefit the growth of the port sector. The non-major boards all come under the State Governments and whether it is expansion of minor ports or greenfield ports, it is necessary that these are properly promoted-that the right private pathways are highlighted and a streamlined process is followed for doing all this.

In the absence of a streamlined process, there are problems and complaints, and it is possible that more waterfront of the coastal length than required, is allotted to certain private promoters. So, for a scientific handling of the whole activity with commercial interest also and with the strategic and other aspects to be considered, it is desirable that there are State Maritime Boards where we will also have the presence of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and other security agencies as well. So, coastal security is also an increasingly important issue, and there too, State Maritime Boards will be able to play a co­ordinating role.

Kochi is also setting up a Maritime Board very soon, constituted with people from both, the Indian Navy as well as Merchant Shipping. How long do you expect this process take, since the Port is already ready?
This is up to the state government because for this, a bill will have to be passed by the State Assembly. So, we will not be able to indicate a timeframe but we had the state ministers in-charge of ports attending the Maritime State Development Council Meeting last month. And at the meeting, all the state ministers assured that action is at the advanced stage for establishing their respective State Maritime Boards.

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