What is the status of the five national waterways as of now? Is there any movement of cargo on them?
The Inland Waterways Authority of India was established in 1986 and the Parliament of India declared five national waterways in successive years. The NW1 (Ganga) is partially developed and carrying three million tons of cargo. The NW2 (Brahmaputra) is partially developed and carrying two million tons. The NW3 (backwater Kerala) is almost developed and at present. It caters to one million ton of cargo. The NW4 and NW5 are in different stages of DPR (Detailed Project Report) and consultants appointed for these are almost ready with the project reports.
To maintain the proper draft for navigation is a major challenge. How would you ensure this for the smooth sailing of the barges?
To meet this challenge we are going with the ‘Assured Depth Dredging Contract’ to contractors and some river training measures have to be taken up. Because dredging alone cannot ensure the required depth for navigation. Without barrage construction, we will be able to ensure the two metres or two-and-half metres of the draft in the river. Earlier, we were doing it ourselves but now we are giving this on contract on long-term basis. Once the dredging is done that can be utilised for two or three years as we have done in NW3, the Kerala backwater, where the dredging is being done and which will be navigational in the next three or four years with minimum annual maintenance. But this is not in case with the two main waterways NW1 and NW2 (Ganga and Brahmaputra) as these two rivers are alluvial in nature and bring heavy loads of silt every year. In these two rivers dredging is required every year, resulting in high cost of maintenance.
There are many construction works in progress on NW1. Can you elaborate?
The National Waterway 1, Ganga, is from Allahabad to Haldia, total length 1620 KM. We are trying to develop and utilise its full potential. Three metres 0depth must be available round the year in the entire river stretch. This will enable the movement of the barges of about two-and-half metres draft with a cargo load of 2000 to 3000 tons round the year. Only this will be economically viable. We are also looking for the right kind of barge designs and for this. We have floated a global tender to appoint the consultants who, after studying the rivers, give us the right design for cargo vessels, for steel, for coal, for the liquid cargo and the bulk transportation of the industrial products. And the vessel should be fuel efficient. We are doing a World Bank project of Rs 4200 crores on NW1 which entails about six fixed terminals, out of which three will be multi-modal, with road and rail connectivity. The first is at Varanasi, second is at Sahebganj in Bihar (for the transportation of the coal from the Rajmahal coalfields) and third is at Haldia. Work order for Varanasi has already been issued for Rs 119 crores. There is one case pending in court which is scheduled for hearing this month and we are hopeful for a favourable judgement. Once we get clearance from the court, we will immediately start the work. At Sahebganj we have already acquired the land, the DPR is ready and we have floated tender last week. We hope that the work will start by March 2016. For Haldia we have acquired the 61 acres of land, the DPR is ready and the work will start by the end of this month. The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given its approval for transfer of 14.86 hectares of land from the Farakka Barrage Project under the Ministry of Water Resources to Inland Waterways Authority of India under the Ministry of Shipping for construction of a new navigational lock parallel to the existing lock at Farakka. This is a Rs 600 crore project and the DPR is ready. Work will start in April.
The IWAI is investing huge funds for the development of waterways, but how will you fetch business?
We are in the process of negotiating with the people who have cargo to move. Producers of Vanaspati, coal, cement are potential clients for us. We have appointed a Port Consultant from Germany who is already in consultation with companies and will also suggest what kind of tie-ups can be made. We are the growing economy and to keep pace with growth we need more power, steel, fertilizer and cement. These sectors will be our potential clients in days to come. We are doing some trial runs from Varanasi to Haldia. We are doing it for NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation), Farakka, where we ship their coal from Indonesia port to Haldia. From there it is directly sent to the NTPC yard via conveyer belt and three million tons of coal is being sent to them every year. Similarly, we are negotiating with the NTPC, Barh (Bihar), for their coal carriage from Haldia. In NW2 Dalmiya cement has also shown interest in getting their cargo moved through us. In NW5 (in Orissa from Paradeep to Pankopal) this is one of the most commercially viable routes. Tatas have assured us for their cargo. Once this NW5 becomes operational the Mahanadi Coalfield will provide ample loads of cargo. The Kalinganagar Industrial Area which is located in that area too has a tremendous potential for cargo. There will be 11 thermal power stations along the NW1 and 10 more are proposed. So we will have most of the coal to carry to these stations.
The NW1 will carry something close to 70 million tons of cargo alone in the next five years. We have also identified 106 rivers and tributaries. The bill declaring them national waterways was passed by the Lok Sabha and it is pending in the Rajya Sabha for approval. We hope that this will be cleared in the coming Budget session. Once we get clearance, we will start working on those rivers and tributaries to create a network of waterways. It is like a lone national highway will not be utilised fully unless it is fed by the state highways, district roads and so on. Similar is the case with the national waterways. The moment we get Parliamentary nod we will start working on at least eight rivers immediately. We are ready with the preliminary reports.
The connectivity to North East is very important; there is no proper road or rail infrastructure in the region. How do you plan to connect the region through waterways up to Tripura and Meghalaya in terms of cargo movement?
We have done some tremendous work for the connectivity to extreme ends of north east. The Bangladesh Protocol Routes is close to 1600 km up and down. Bangladesh is not able to maintain the depth up to the upper reaches of rivers connecting Dhaka which is primarily our need. So we have negotiated with Bangladesh to maintain the assured depth from Dhaka to Karimganj in our Secretary level talks. Mutual agreement will be signed by both the governments soon. And if they issue a tender, we can share the financial burden. Recently, we were able to ship our rice to Tripura through Karim Nagar and Ashuganj (both in Bangladesh). We are doing the Kaladan project in Myanmar on the Kaladan river. The construction of two terminals at Sitwe and Kalewa is almost nearing completion. This will connect Mizoram through the Indo-Myanmar border. At Dhubri and Hastingmari, we are providing Ro-Ro (Roll-on/roll-off) facility for trucks where loaded vehicles could be put on barges to cross the river.
How will you fund this huge plan for expansion in waterways?
Primarily we are depending on budgetary support from the Shipping Ministry. For 2016-17 we will be getting Rs 1800 crore. We will be doing multi-lateral funding like funds from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, BRICS, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) etc. on a low interest rate. We are exploring for PPP opportunities in terminal building. Market borrowing may be another option. We are making our paper ready to present our case to take funds from the Green Technology Fund and Road Cess. Waterways are environment friendly. They cut on emission, so we will try to get funds from there also.
Apart from the cargo traffic, how can these waterways can be utilised for other purposes?
We will provide the ferry services to certain areas in Kolkata, Patna and other places. The Ro-Ro facility to many parts of the waterways. At Ganga Setu in Patna, the 16 wheelers trucks are not allowed to run on the bridge so the cargo is off loaded at one end and shifted to smaller trucks before crossing the bridge. We will offer Ro-Ro services through the specially designed barges. We are identifying the places where we can provide this facility in our network. Apart from this private cruises have started plying on NW1 from Varanasi to Patna, to and fro. These are 6 to 7 star cruises and are booked for the next two years by international tourists who come to visit the Buddhist circuit. We have also finalised at Secretary level discussions in last November 2015 that the cruise will also be going to Bangladesh. Earlier, only cargo vessels were allowed to go through the Bangladesh Protocol Route.
With so many constructions along river routes do environment clearances pose a challenge?
We do our construction work with all environment clearances. We don’t do anti-environment work. We are not allowed to do so. We do environment impact assessment, social impact assessment and ecological study before the construction work starts.