National Waterways Bill aims to re-define transportation infrastructure in India. It adds 106 inland waterways to list of national waterways, taking total number to 111.
- India has about 14,500 km of navigable waterways comprising of rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc.
- According to official estimates, about 34 percent of Indian cargo is currently trans-shipped through international hub ports, resulting in revenue loss for Indian ports as well as high costs on customer side.
- Most EU nations and countries like China have maintained and upgraded their river systems on important routes to support large vessels.
- Bangladesh has increased its freight movement through waterways to 35 percent.
- India however, struggles to create depth in its river systems and evolve effective de-silting processes to accommodate even medium or small-sized vessels.
National Waterways Bill | Benefits
- Environmental Aspect: Transportation of cargo through inland waterways helps to rein in carbon emissions
- Human Resource: Transportation of cargo through inland waterways helps curbs rate of road accidents.
- Quantitative Edge: In terms of quantity, inland waterways can move five times more cargo than roadways and railways.
- Cost Effectiveness: Construction and maintenance of waterways system is also cheaper to build and maintain.
National Waterways Bill | Near Future Plan
- To develop new Greenfield ports on both the country’s coasts.
- To expedite work on National Waterways Project, which proposes ‘to have waterways covering entire nation, just like national highways.
- To set up 2,000 water ports, and Roll-on-Roll-off (RoRo) services at five select places in India to transport goods and vehicles, across India.
- There is huge potential for water transport.
- Under this project, Varanasi, Haldia and Sahibganj will be developed as multi-modal hubs with roadways, waterways and railways.
- To construct inland waterways on Ganga, between Varanasi and Haldia, supported with 30 water ports.
- Under ‘Sagarmala Project’, aim is to develop port infrastructure along country’s 7,500-km coastline.
National Waterways Bill | Change in Cabotage Law
- Due to lack of Indian RoRo vessels, 60 percent of India’s export and import containers are transhipped through ports like Singapore and Colombo, which involves huge expenditure and extra transit time.
- So, change in Cabotage Law will definitely change the game.
National Waterways Bill | Gains
STRATEGIC GAINS: It may end Colombo’s monopoly in transhipment in South Asia and attract international carriers to operate in Indian waters. Moreover, Colombo’s China-backed ports have long unnerved India’s strategic community. Challenge remains to establish robust waterways systems bypassing problems like, seasonal river flows, dry summers, low height bridges obstructing traffic and diverting river navigation without hurting irrigation and drinking water needs, the benefits are surely worth taking that plunge.
MONETARY GAIN: More trade means Forex.
ECONOMIC GAIN: More employment generation and flip to other construction based sectors like iron, steel and cement.
So, a delayed but fortunately a step in right direction giving India an edge in the age of global competitive trade.
 Cabotage is transport of goods between two points in same country.