Since ancient times, inland water transport has played a major role in moving goods and commodities from production sources to consumption destinations. The author takes a look at the potential of IWT in the country and recent developments.
Water is a source of life! Waterways are corridors of economic growth. History shows that waterways created and sustained great civilisations: Indus Valley, Gangetic Plains, Tigris & Euphrates, Nile, Amazon, Volga, Yangtse & Yellow River, Thames, Rhine, Venice and many more.
In the last century, road and rail networks gathered enormous momentum and this eroded the importance of Inland Water Transportation (IWT) primarily on account of enhanced speed of movement which road and rail provided. Road, Rail and now Air travel transportation have attracted the bulk of investment. While this has certainly added to the economic wealth of nations, it has resulted in ignoring and resultant degradation of inland waterways which is a vital means of transport.
Some nations, however, realised the importance and economic gains of maintaining and in fact developing navigable river and other inland waterways. This was either out of compulsion (like Bangladesh which had scarce land resources and a network of ever shifting & flooding river banks in the Ganges Delta) or economic expediency like China whose massive waterways were a lifeline to its huge populace. Canals, rivers & waterways particularly of Europe, Asia & North America are being effectively used as transport highways for cargo & mass transit people movers.
Coastal trade uses what can be termed as Marine Highways or Motorways of the Sea. These are not maritime corridors which cross oceans, but instead short sea shipping routes which generally follow the coastline, coastal waterways & inlets.
It makes Economic sense
With today’s high cost of congestion (time, money, environment), the economic benefits of road, rail and air transportation are getting eroded. Transportation over water is cheaper than road, rail or air. This is an established fact. The US Freight transportation and the US Transportation Energy book
For a corresponding volume of cargo, a river can be the most cost effective “highway” to a city
• Transhipment and storage costs are much lower. A 1200 tonne barge can handle as much as 70-80 trucks with grain!
• Low maintenance
• Cheapest, energy efficient, low pollution mode of transportation with huge employment generation potential
• Helps to mitigate land traffic congestion
A study by RITES, a short while ago, showed that developing a waterway in India costs approximately `0.50/km compared to a roadway which costs around INR `10-14cr/km for a six lane highway.