Scope and Status of Inland Waterways and Tourism – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • February 3, 2020
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Scope and Status of Inland Waterways and Tourism


Search 13th Jan, 2020 Spotlight here: http://www.newsonair.com/Main_Audio_Bulletins_Search.aspx   

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

In India

Inland waterways have been accorded a central role in maritime development in India. The National Waterways Act 2016, has declared 111 rivers or river stretches, creeks, estuaries in India as National Waterways. Navigation in rivers, lakes and other water bodies by smaller vessels connecting places not far from each other has been around for centuries, and been the mainstay of our inland waterways. In a few cases, especially near ports and coastal areas, this has also evolved to large-scale, commercial shipping.

A Good Alternative

Development of transport system using the connections between inland waterways is an alternative to automotive communication. 

  • Introducing new types of inland and coastal ships that are technically advanced, environmentally friendly – to decrease the level of harmful emissions and amount of waste, which apart from the economy values also has significant ecological virtues. 
  • Moreover, moving car transport onto waterway routes shall relieve the burden on land roads in international scale, increasing their flow capacity and driving safety and decreasing the level of atmospheric contamination and noise in areas directly adjacent to them.

The National Waterways Act 

Intends to create such large-scale, commercial shipping and navigation systems in all these 111 waterways. Expected to realise the potential of cargo and passenger traffic, including tourism and cruise, offer seamless connectivity at lower per-unit cost and make transportation more efficient. The project, in its entire implementation and operation phase, would generate a series of forward and backward linkages with prospects to penetrate deep into the economy. The multiplier effect of the investment and its linkages can result in a virtuous cycle of all-round growth

Vast network: The National Waterways Act mandates the Central Government to regulate these waterways for systematic and orderly development of shipping and navigation activities. Spread across the Eastern, Western, Southern and Central regions of the country, these waterways cover nearly 15000 kilometres across 24 states and two union territories. They include the country’s 138 river systems, creeks, estuaries and related canal systems, and can be utilised as a channel to move passengers and cargo within the country and to the neighbouring countries.

Working on Linkages: The waterways are also proposed to be linked to the eastern and western Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs), as well as the Sagarmala Project, which aims to promote port-led direct and indirect development. The linkages are being planned in a manner such that commodities and cargo can be swapped/shifted from and to the waterways, the DFCs and road transport. The inland waterway in its full scope is conceived as part of an ambition to link several big infrastructure projects.

Increased Investment: Inland waterway network has no continuous connectivity. It requires a multimodal network comprising water bodies and roadways, including culverts, bridges etc, to be developed. This involves investment in a large number of activities to be carried out for infrastructure development. Moreover, the Integrated National Waterways Transportation Grid plans to link many of the national waterways to each other and also to roads, railways and major ports. The capital cost of the Grid is estimated at Rs. 22,763 crores with phase-I (2015-18) estimated at INR 2,631 crore and phase- II (2018-23) at INR 20,132 crore. In addition, setting up of a large number of ports/terminals, riverside jetties, godowns, boat building workshops, repairing yards and ancillary industries, will spur investment opportunities.


  • A fundamental alteration in the logistics scenario of the country: It represents a ready built infrastructure network, which can be utilised without any further capital investment. 
  • The network requires no green field investment, but only capex for improvement/upgradation.
  • Waterways can decongest roads, including highways by moving cargo away. 
  • Waterways do not involve challenges associated with land acquisition, which has always been a sensitive issue, causing time and cost overruns of numerous projects. 
  • The significant investment which India needs to build its roads/highways infrastructure network can be conserved through increased utilisation of the waterways. User charges can be levied to meet the expenses on maintenance of the waterways.
  • Waterways are a cheaper mode of transportation vis-à-vis the available alternatives, significantly reducing the point-to-point cost of goods transportation. 

Inland water transport is recognised as fuel efficient, cost effective and environment-friendly mode of transport, especially for bulk goods, hazardous goods and over dimensional cargos. It also reduces time, cost of transportation of goods and cargos, as well as congestion and accidents on highways. They are expected to also “help create seamless interconnectivity connecting hinterlands along navigable river coasts and coastal routes” and “are likely to play a crucial role in connecting the north-eastern states to the mainland.”

Implementation Challenges

Implementation of the national waterways network is, however, fraught with challenges. 

  • The channel draft of the national waterways is not uniform at 2 meters throughout the year, as is required. Some of these rivers are seasonal and do not offer navigability through the year. Around 20 out of the 111 identified national waterways have reportedly been found unviable. 
  • Further, all the identified waterways require intensive capital and maintenance dredging, which could be resisted by the local community on environmental grounds, including displacement fears, thereby posing implementation challenges. Water also has important competing uses, viz. need for living as well as for irrigation, power generation etc. It would not be possible for local government/others to overlook these needs.
  • The exclusive jurisdiction of the Central Government is only in regard to shipping and navigation on inland waterways declared to be ‘national waterways’ by an act of Parliament. Utilisation/sailing of vessels, in other waterways, is within the ambit of the concurrent list or is in the jurisdiction of the respective state governments.
  • As every riverine system is unique and presents diverse challenges, separate studies based on a detailed micro-level review to assess viability need to be done for each, before taking up implementation. An effective waterways network would necessitate drawing up a well-coordinated strategy on lines of complementarity between the national network and other waterways, not declared as such, as well as between waterways and roadways/railways. The said strategy should closely look into the various undercurrents, including competing uses/needs, possible local resistance and also work closely and in coordination with local governments for quick and successful implementation of this important national project.

Inland Waterways Authority of India

  • IWAI is the statutory body in charge of the waterways in India.
  • Its headquarters is located in Noida, UP.
  • Its main function is to build the necessary infrastructure in the inland waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also carrying out administration and regulation.
  • It undertakes projects for development and maintenance of IWT infrastructure on national waterways through grant received from Ministry of Shipping.

Kalasa Banduri project

  • The project involves diverting water from Mahadayi river, the lifeline of Goa, into the Malaprabha river.
  • The Kalasa Banduri project is aimed at providing drinking water to three important districts of north Karnataka — Belagavi, Gadag and Dharwad — which go parched in summer due to acute water scarcity.
  • Mahadayi river originates from a cluster of 30 springs at Bhimgad in the Western Ghats in the Belgaum district of Karnataka. Then it enters Goa and finally drains in Arabian sea.
  • Goa state capital Panaji lies on the banks of Mandovi
  • Mahadayi Water Tribunal (MWT) Award in 2018:Karnataka has been allocated 13.5tmcft of water, Goa has been 24tmcft while Maharashtra has been allocated 1.3tmcft

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Examine the potential of inland water transportation in India.  
  2. Do you think national waterways in India must get greater policy attention? Critically examine.
  3. Waterways has been the most neglected mode for inland transportation in India. Examine. Discuss the challenges associated with waterways in India. How can their potential be tapped?
  4. What are the essential geographic conditions for a waterway? Do Indian rivers fulfill these conditions? Examine.

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