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National waterways: Why NDA govt’s plan to add 101 new routes is a good step

By Newsgram Staff Writer

This will come as a relief to many environmentalists. Minister of State for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan has stated in the Rajya Sabha that the government is discussing a proposal to increase the number of national waterways; an additional 101 water routes. Water transport system is a slow mode of transport as compared to railways and roads. Nevertheless, it is a saviour of India’s gradually depleting environment.

Water routes are one of the least used transport system in the country, accounting to less than 1% of the total inland traffic. As a first step to this proposal, the Inland Waterways Authority of India is researching the practicability of this scheme. Based on the study, the government will further decide the feasibility of turning these water routes into national waterways. If the plan is executed, the most prominent impact will be on the cost of transportation as water transport consumes relatively less fuel.

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Waterways require minimal capital for construction and maintenance, as they are naturally existing transport system. However, there are flipsides too. Development of this sector ultimately depends on the incoming of investments, both private and public.

There are certain drawbacks of inland water transport and hence, attracting investments in this sector is not an easy mission, no matter how minimal it is. Water level varies seasonally. Moreover, the physical structure of one waterway is different from the other and these are just a few of the numerous.

For investors, returns from the water transport system are limited. This decreases their interest in investing in this sector. On the other hand, the country is becoming polluted day by day. In order to curb environmental hazards, use of water routes should be encouraged.

According  to the World Bank, “Inland water transportation remains largely undeveloped despite India’s 14,000 kilometers of navigable rivers and canals.” Inland water transport sector declined in the 19th century due to the advent of the railways. Before this, inland water bodies like creeks, canals, and backwater were used for transporting goods and people from one place to another. In fact, the country has a long tradition of using such waterways. Ganga, Brahmaputra, Krishna, Yamuna, Mahanadi, Godavari were a few of the main arteries of India’s transport system.

The Inland Waterways Authority of India was established in 27th October 1986 and currently, there are five national waterways in the country.

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