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Taking cargo off trucks and putting back onto ships: Modi govt’s big plan to develop 23 river systems

The government will develop 23 river systems for cargo and passenger vessel movement, aiming for greater use of inland waterways as a cheaper mode of transport, union minister for ports, shipping and waterways Sarbananda Sonowal said. The minister did not name all 23 river systems but said that the government’s focus is on increasing the movement through river systems which is a greener mode of transport and cheap compared to trains and trucks.

“Till now we have 111 national waterways out of this, we have discovered there are 23 river systems which are feasible for navigation,” he told news agency Press Trust of India.

To promote inland water transport in the country, 111 waterways have been declared as National Waterways (NWs) under the National Waterways Act.

The minster said India’s river systems have a lot of business potential and he urged investors to invest for good returns and explore the untapped potential of this segment. He cited the example of MV Ganga Vilas, the world’s longest river cruise, which concluded its 50-day journey on Tuesday in Dibrugarh with German and Swiss tourists onboard.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 13th had flagged off the MV Ganga Vilas luxury cruise on the world’s longest river voyage from Varanasi to Dibrugarh.

India is eyeing an investment of ₹35,000 crore by 2047 to create a network of waterways in the country, Sanjay Bandopadhyaya, chairman of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), told ET earlier. The plan to be implemented over the next 25 years will include developing waterways and jetties to improve the navigable capacity of Indian rivers.

The minister said a lot of development will happen along the river Brahmaputra, that will create jobs in large numbers for the people. In Dibrugarh, the construction of a multi-modal cargo terminal will begin by 2023-end. Under the government’s ‘Arth Ganga’ model, small jetties would be set up along the Ganga to energise economic activity along river banks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. This will bring down the logistics cost for farmers in the movement of local produce.

Bulk cargo like coal, fly-ash and iron ore are found economical and cost-effective for movement through Inland Water Transport (IWT) which is environment friendly and less pollutant mode of transport than rail and road.

The waterways minister also cited an example how waterways will bring down the logistics costs and also benefit the environment. The state-owned company unloads it at Haldia port in West Bengal from where it transports it to Dibrugarh in Assam through trucks. “The movement is through 500 trucks daily which creates pollution. When it is brought through the river system. It will be cheaper and greener,” Sonowal said.

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