Inland water transport in Assam is poised for a big leap with the signing of two Memorandums of Understanding under the aegis of the Ministry of Port, Shipping and Waterways

Inland water transport in Assam is poised for a big leap with the signing of two Memorandums of Understanding under the aegis of the Ministry of Port, Shipping and Waterways which will facilitate increased cargo movement along the Brahmaputra and the establishment of a ship repair facility at Pandu. Of these, the MoU signed between Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) will facilitate transportation of 13 Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) and project cargo of NRL using the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route, Brahmaputra waterways and Dhansiri river route. Dredging operations to be carried out extensively along the riverine route to facilitate the transportation process will keep the water channels navigable and create the potential for round the year cargo transport, tourism cruise and local water transport. NRL needs to transport the ODCs for expansion of the refinery from the present capacity of 3 Million Metric Tonnes Per Annum (MMTPA) to 9 MMTPA. The refinery intends to leverage multimodal transportation through road and waterways for delivery of the equipment from major ports in the country’s western region to NRL. The operative cost of water transport is 30 % less than railways and 60 per cent less than roadways but the potential of inland water transport in the country has not been optimally utilized. India’s share of inland water cargo transport is only 2% which speaks volumes about its underutilization.

Vietnam accounts for the highest share of inland water transport of 18% followed by China with 14%, Germany with 11% and the United States with 7.5%. Under the Maritime India Vision 2030 of the Central government, India has set the target of increasing annual cargo movement on inland waterways from the current level of 73 MMTPA to 200 MMTPA and increase operational national waterways from 16 to 23 by 2030. High deposition of silt poses a huge challenge for IWAI to maintain the draft required to keep the National Waterway-2 along Brahmaputra navigable. The second memorandum signed by the IWAI with the Hooghly Cochin Shipyard Limited for setting up a new Ship Repair Facility at Pandu port of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. The facility to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 75 crore will cut down travel distance of 2500 km (both ways) and voyage time of 35-40 days currently required for repairing of vessels in Kolkata. This will bring an end to inconvenience to owners of around 200 vessels in the state by saving transportation costs and reducing idle time. Regular monitoring of the project will be critical to meeting the 2023 deadline. Making the Brahmaputra navigable will increase the export potential of the Northeast region manifold and will help to diversify the country’s export basket. It will also boost trade in the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) region through India’s first multimodal logistics park project being developed by the river at Jogighopa in Assam’s Goalpara district. Under the India Bangladesh Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, inland vessels in India and Bangladesh are allowed to ply on the designated protocol route and dock at 11 Ports of Call in each country. Jogighopa is included in new ports of call on the IBP route and will also provide connectivity to Bhutan besides the states in the region.

The IBP requires both India and Bangladesh to maintain river routes falling within the respective territory in navigable conditions and provide all necessary pilotage and conservancy services. Optimal utilization of this newly created potential by north-eastern states will also depend on their capacity to identify trade and commerce opportunities through waterways and aspiration to explore the global market for the benefit of their producers and entrepreneurs in the region. Creating the required ecosystem for grooming exporters and building their capacity in utilizing multimodal transport facilities will be crucial for ease of doing business in a true sense. Substantial 10% growth in the country’s trade with BIMSTEC countries has unlocked huge export potential for the northeast region and improved inland water connectivity will be an added advantage.

The mesmerising beauty of the natural landscape of the Brahmaputra and Barak has huge potential boosting tourism cruise and maintenance of the required draft through plying of cargo vessels and regular dredging, as well as the repair facility, is expected to encourage more entrepreneurs and travel operators of the region to explore river cruise as sustainable business opportunities. Modern, smooth, and safe river cruise has the potential to attract more tourists to the region from the world over and more particularly from ASEAN countries under India’s Act East and Policy. The convergence of various initiatives of different central ministries and state governments in the region for unlocking the potential of trade and commerce of the Northeast is of paramount importance to achieve the desired objectives. Timely implementation of initiatives for improving inland water transport in the region will help the Northeast to set sail on a new route of growth.

Source : The Sentinel