Inland water transport (IWT) has become a key focus area of the government in recent times. Several initiatives are being undertaken to promote the growth of the sector, which, in turn have led to increased demand for dredging.
Jal Marg Vikas Project: Scope and progress
Announced in the 2014-15 budget speech, the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) is aimed at the capacity augmentation of National Waterway (NW)-1 between Haldia and Varanasi. The JMVP is estimated to entail an investment of Rs 53.69 billion, and is being implemented with technical and financial assistance from the World Bank.
The project’s objective is to provide an environment-friendly, fuel-efficient and cost-effective alternative transportation mode, especially for bulk goods, hazardous goods and overdimensional cargo on NW-1. The aim of the project is to increase cargo movement on NW-1 from 4.6 million tonnes (mt) during 2016-17 to 21.89 mt by 2019-20. It will enable the commercial navigation of vessels with a capacity of 1,500-2,000 deadweight tonnage.
As the implementing agency for a part of JMVP, the Inland Waterways Authority of India’s (IWAI) purview of work includes detailed feasibility studies and detailed engineering for ancillary works on NW-1; environmental and social impact assessment studies, environmental management and resettlement action plans; and an IWT sector development strategy and market development study.
The scope of the JMVP includes the development of three multimodal terminals – one each at Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Sahibganj (Jharkhand) and Haldia (West Bengal); two intermodal terminals each at Kalughat and Ghazipur; a new navigational lock at Farakka; five roll on, roll off terminals; the development of ferry services at Varanasi, Patna, Bhagalpur, Munger, Kolkata and Haldia; and vessel repair and maintenance facilities.
In addition, a river information service (RIS) system will be developed on NW-1, an initiative being undertaken for the first time in the country. The RIS system includes equipment, hardware- and software-information technology-related services designed to optimise traffic and transport processes in inland navigation.
Till now, contracts for construction of multimodal terminals at Varanasi and Sahibganj, and a new navigational lock at Farakka have been awarded, and work at the respective sites has commenced. Construction of the multimodal terminal at Haldia is expected to begin soon. Construction work on the three terminals is expected to be completed by 2019.
The JMVP also includes the proposal for a performance-based maintenance dredging contract for the provision of least assured depth (LAD) of 3 metres on the Farakka-Kahalgaon and Sultanganj-Barh stretches; an LAD of 2.5 metres on the Barh-Doriganj and Doriganj-Ghazipur stretches; and an LAD of 2.2 metres between Ghazipur and Varanasi.
The two methods which are being used for achieving the LAD are the river conservancy/ training method and dredging. Dredging, as a method for excavating under water, is comparatively costlier than the river conservancy method. Hence, before finalising any dredging contract, the key factors which are being considered is the type of river, locality, morphology and river channel hydraulics.
Other recent government initiatives
The National Waterways Act, 2016, declaring 106 new NWs, has been enforced with effect from April 12, 2016. IWAI will develop the feasible stretches of these NWs for shipping and navigation purposes. However, the right over the use of water and the riverbed will remain with the state government. These waterways have been divided into three categories on the basis of their economic viability and feasibility of development.
In May 2017, the Union cabinet accorded approval to a proposal jointly mooted by the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for the amendment of the Central Road Fund Act, 2000, to allocate 2.5 per cent of the proceeds of the Central Road Fund towards the development and maintenance of NWs and a reduction in the share provided for development of national highways.
Subsequently, in June 2017, the cabinet approved the revalidation of the permission given to IWAI to raise extrabudgetary resources of Rs 6.6 billion via the issue of Government of India (GoI) bonds in 2017-18. The proceeds of the bond issue will be utilised by IWAI for the development and maintenance of NWs under the National Waterways Act, 2016. These funds will be used exclusively for capital expenditure. During 2016-17, IWAI raised Rs 3.4 billion through its maiden bond issue. The fully serviced GoI bonds were privately placed with banks and financial institutions on March 1, 2017.
Challenges and the way forward
The repair and maintenance of imported dredgers, disposal of the dredged material, absence of clarity in bid documents, ambiguity in the tender documents regarding the scope of work, and untrained manpower are some of the key challenges being faced by the dredging industry in the country.
Going forward, the government has an ambitious plan of developing 106 new waterways and maintaining the navigational channel of the five existing NWs. These initiatives are expected to significantly increase the demand for dredging in inland waterways in the years to come.
Based on a presentation by A.K. Mishra, director, IWAI