The inland waterways transport infrastructure in the state is all set for a major boost with the Transport department executing the “Inland Waterways Transport Logistics and Spatial Development Project”. The World Bank has recently signed an agreement with the central government and the state government to provide a loan of $105 million against the project which is aimed at facilitating both passenger and freight movement in five densely populated districts of south Bengal that covers the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) where one third of the state population resides. The five year project has already taken off with the feasibility and socio-environmental impact study already over.
“The other important aspects of the project will involve institution strengthening and best business practices, integrated strategic development plan, safety study, linkage of water connectivity with city’s logistics, development of jetties and promotion of vessels that includes both passenger and cargo,” an official in the state Transport department said. KMA covers four municipal corporations and 37 municipalities with Kolkata, parts of North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Nadia and Hooghly within its jurisdiction. The riverine route along the bank of river passing adjacent to Kolkata, Baranagar, Barrackpore, Chandannagore, Serampore, Uluberia, Budge Budge, Maheshtala, Pujali etc come under its aegis.
“The development of the jetties have already started. 48 jetties have suffered damages due to the severe cyclonic storm Amphan that hit the state on May 20 last year. Smart ticketing gates will be developed at 103 places across 40 locations,” the official said. The development of a robust system for streamlining issuance of permits, controlling ferry movement along the river route and ushering in the best practices for efficient management is a major challenge for the department. “The promotion of vessels for cargo as well as passengers is a very important aspect and the department is holding talks for providing incentives for players so that they can invest in this area,” the official added.
The existing ferry system, operational for decades, caters to less than 2 per cent of the passenger traffic and a small portion of the freight movement. This project will not only help improve the river transport infrastructure in Bengal and help in the economic development of the state by connecting the hinterland with markets and job centres in KMA. Sources in the department said that some powerful middlemen had tried to disrupt the execution of this project under the patronage of a former minister who had joined BJP. However, the intervention of the Chief Minister’s Office ensured the maintenance of transparency and now the project is on track.