Government ‘indifferent’ to building inland water transport: panel


New Delhi : Expressing concern over the slow pace of development of inland water transport in India, a parliamentary panel said the “cost-effective and environment-friendly” system’s potential remains largely unexplored due to the “indifferent attitude” of the government.

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The committee, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury, submitted its report Tuesday and said that though the department of shipping wants to increase trade through inland water transport, the waterways are still not being “utilised to their potential”.

It said the waterways remain “largely neglected and underdeveloped” for want of required infrastructure like fairways, terminals and navigable aids.

The government plans to pass a bill in parliament that seeks to declare the Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch of the Barak river in Assam as a national waterway so that it could be regulated and developed for shipping and navigation purposes.

The bill was introduced in parliament Aug 29, 2007, and is pending ever since as it was sent to the committee for examination. As the examination could not be completed in time, it was granted extension.

“Inland water transport system is one of the oldest, fuel efficient, cost-effective and environment friendly system but its potential remains largely unexplored due to the indifferent attitude of the central and state governments,” the report said.

Presented to the Rajya Sabha, the report said adequate investments, policy framework and focussed approach were needed to develop the transport system as a viable mode complementary to rail and road modes.

It said if the government really wants to develop the inland water transport sector to its potential, it should sincerely endeavour to provide institutional framework and minimise the procedure bottlenecks.

The report suggested that investments should be provided through both public and private partnerships so that it could be developed to a level where private sector feels confident to invest in the sector, particularly in ownership and operation of cargo and passenger vessels in the inland water transport system.

The committee recommended that government provide institutional framework and basic infrastructural facility for accelerated development of the sector in the country so as to increase its capacity and commercialisation.

The project would boost the rural economy and provide connectivity for movement of commodities between the port of Haldia/Kolkata through the India-Bangladesh protocol route for transit and trade, the 32-page report said.

It would also mean better environment, more employment and increase in tourism. The report suggested that the waterways be connected with rail and road for better linkages.

“The committee is of the view that comprehensive planning and knowing the financial implication is a must for the government to provide allocation for development of this waterway,” it said.

It suggested that the bill be passed in its present form with formal amendments. But hoped that while implementing the provision of the bill, the recommendations made by them would be considered so that the purpose of the declaration of the proposed national waterway should not be defeated.