- India has an extensive network of inland waterways in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. These long waterways provide a good mode of transport across the cities as well as towns, like backwaters of Kerala, Canals in Gujarat and few waterways in Goa, West Bengal and Assam.
- The total navigable length is 14,500 km, out of which about 5,200 km of the river and 4,000 km of canals can be used by mechanized crafts. Still these inland waterways are underutilized in India as compared to other countries in the world.
- Its operations are currently restricted to a few stretches in the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly rivers , the Brahmaputra, the Barak river, the rivers in Goa, the backwaters in Kerala, inland waters in Mumbai and the deltaic regions of the Godavari – Krishna rivers.
- Freight transportation by waterways is highly under-utilized in India compared to other large countries and geographic areas like the United States, China and the European Union. The total cargo moved (in tonne kilometres) by the inland waterway was just 0.1% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the 21% figure for the United States. Cargo transportation in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala.
- Water transportation is receiving significant attention in recent times since logistics cost in India is one of the highest among major countries – it is 18% in India versus 8-10% in China and 10-12% in European Union.
- While inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received lesser investment as compared to roads and railways. Since inland waterways are lagging behind other modes of transport, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is working on new projects for waterways and better water transportation in India.
- The Inland Waterways Authority of India came into existence in 1986 for development and regulation of inland waterways for shipping and navigation.
- It is a Statutory Body under the Ministry of Shipping.
- The Authority primarily undertakes projects for development and maintenance of Inland Water Transport (IWT) infrastructure on national waterways through grants received from the Ministry of Shipping.
National Waterways Act 2016
- As per constitutional provisions, only those waterways which are declared as National Waterways come under the purview of the Central Government while the rest of waterways remain in the purview of respective State Governments.
- The National Waterways Act 2016, has declared 111 rivers or river stretches, creeks, estuaries in India as National Waterways for the promotion of Inland waterways in the country.
- The National Waterways Act mandates the Central Government to regulate these waterways for systematic and orderly development of shipping and navigation activities.
- It intends to create large-scale, commercial shipping and navigation systems in all these 111 waterways. These are expected to realise the potential of cargo and passenger traffic, including tourism and cruise, offer seamless connectivity at lower per-unit cost and make transportation more efficient.
- Spread across the Eastern, Western, Southern and Central regions of the country, these waterways cover nearly 15000 kilometres across 24 states and two union territories.
- The project would generate a series of forward and backward linkages with prospects to penetrate deep into the economy. The multiplier effect of the investment and its linkages can result in a virtuous cycle of all-round growth.
Why in News?
- To promote inland water transport (IWT) in the country, 111 inland waterways spread over 24 states have been declared as National Waterways (NWs) under National Waterway Act, 2016. Based on the outcome of techno-economic feasibility and Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of these NWs, action plan has been formulated by IWAI for 26 NWs found viable for cargo/passenger movement. Development activities have been initiated in the first 13 NWs out of the 26 viable NWs.