Q Despite being cost effective and efficient, why does water transport continue to be an underutilized mode of freight transport in India? What steps have been taken by the government in this regard?
• Briefly mention the status of water freight transport in India.
• Mention the reasons for its underutilization.
• Enumerate the measures taken by the government to boost water transport in India.
Water transport accounted for 6% of freight transport in India in 2016-17. The total cargo handling capacity at major and non- major ports stood at 2161.85 MMTs and the total capacity utilization across all ports was 52.44 %. Inland Water Transport (IWT) carries less than 2% of India’s organized freight traffic and negligible passenger traffic.
IWT is widely regarded as the most environmentally friendly and cost effective mode of freight transport. As per RITES Report of 2014, one litre of fuel moves 24 tonne – km on road, 95 tonne- km on rail and 215 tonne-km on IWT.
However, Practical and policy difficulties have led to limited growth of inland waterways in India over the past decade.
• The Kilometer by Kilometer cost analysis shows that the cost difference between water and other transport (land and railways) is not drastic especially when the cost of loading and unloading freight is added.
• There are not many industrial units along the rivers such as Brahmaputra. Lack of cargo movement due to absence of any economic zone is the biggest impediment.
• Another aspect that raises costs is that travel by river is much slower than by rail or road, and therefore there is an opportunity cost of the time spent.
• Rivers need to have sufficient water level throughout the year to make inland waterways viable. In natural state, many Indian rivers do not have that water level.
To make optimum utilization of India’s water transport potential, the government has undertaken following initiatives:
• Sagarmala Programme: It focuses on modernizing and developing ports, enhancing port connectivity, supporting coastal communities and stimulating port-linked industrialization in a phase wise manner over the period 2015-2035.
• National Waterways Act, 2016: Under the National Waterways Act, 2016, 111 inland waterways have been declared as National Waterways (NWs) in addition to the five existing NWs, across 24 States for utilizing them as an environment friendly and sustainable mode of transport.
• Jal Marg Vikas Project: It has been commissioned to augment the capacity of National Waterways-l to enable the movement of larger vessels of 1,500-2,000 tonnes on inland waterway by 2023.
• Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid (EWaCTG): It aims to provide seamless connectivity between National Waterways-1 and NW-2 via Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes for regional integration of 5 South-Asian countries i.e. India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.
• Assam Inland Water Transport Project (AIWTP): Supported by the World Bank, this project will help develop a modern, efficient and safe river transport system over Brahmaputra.
• Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF) Act, 2000: Central Road Fund (CRF) Act, 2000 has been amended by Finance Act, 2019 and has been replaced with CRIF Act, 2000 to fund NWs through the CRF.
A national water grid has also been proposed which would interlink the Indian rivers and would help in faster mobilization of goods from one place to another.