A mandatory clause for the movement of certain commodities through waterways as a commodity-based approach will lead to a big boost to inland waterways, stated Amita Prasad, chairperson, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) at a virtual conference on ‘Eastern Waterway Grid for Regional Connectivity,’ organized by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).
Amita Prasad stated that in the last decade, India has embarked on developing an inland waterway ‘Eastern Grid’, a system of multi-modally interconnected waterways and coastal routes.
“The waterway regional connectivity agenda offers an important opportunity to kick start regional integration in SAR and to facilitate regional trade between South and East Asia. India and Bangladesh in particular are taking lead in advancing policies and investments in developing potential inland waterways,” she said.
The government is keen to develop the waterway connectivity with its neighbours – Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“For centuries water has been the preferred mode of transport for trade between countries. But over the years this model has fallen to disuse. But a commodity-focused approach is required as everything cannot be transported through the waterway.
Bulk cargo should only move through waterways,” she added.
On exploring the scope for cruising activity to offer cultural connectivity with these countries, she said that the sector also offers opportunities for business for private players in terms of navigational aids, terminal development, etc.
During the webinar the participants that included dignitaries from India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh spoke for the need to strengthen waterways as the mode of intra-regional transport.
“It helps quicker shipment and interconnectivity. Waterway transport is especially important in landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan,” said Prakash Dahal, joint secretary – bilateral and regional trade division, Government of Nepal.
Monemul Haque, joint secretary, ministry of shipping, Bangladesh said, “India is an important development partner for Bangladesh. Regional connectivity is our top priority.” Bangladesh is said to have a good network of waterway connectivity.
Karma Tshering, secretary, economic affairs, Government of Bhutan said that regional waterways will be a catalyst for development. “The cost of waterway transport is one-fifth of the road and will benefit all countries,” he said.
Vikram Doraiswami, high commissioner of India to Bangladesh said that waterway transport is cost-effective. “It moves four times more commodities than roadways,” he said.
“To enhance bilateral and regional trade we are looking into formation of SOPs with customs department to simplify the movement of goods and improve information sharing, etc. with these countries,” he added.
Vineet Agarwal, President, ASSOCHAM and managing director of Transport Corporation of India (TCIL), said that for decades India has been involved with the above countries for trade activities using the waterway transport.
“We need to explore how the eastern grid can strengthen trade with them,” said Agarwal. He also emphasised that the importance of waterways is not less. “It costs less, is climate-friendly, and is a form of green transport,” he said.