Inland Waterways

National waterway Bill, Advantage of waterway transport, Challenges in harnessing the potential of waterways

Inland Waterways

Inland water transport system in India: Potential and challenges


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Inland Waterways

Mains level : Innlad water transit and its significance

  • Month after setting sail on the Ganga from Patna, a vessel carrying 200 metric tonnes of food grains for the Food Corporation of India (FCI), docked at Guwahati’s Pandu port on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra.
  • The occasion is believed to have taken inland water transport, on two of India’s largest river systems, to the future.

Why is a Ganga-Brahmaputra cargo vessel in focus?

  • There is nothing unusual about a cargo vessel setting sail from or docking at any river port.
  • This has rekindled hope for the inland water transport system which the landlocked northeast depended on heavily before India’s independence in 1947.

Inland water service: A necessity for the NE

  • Seamless cargo transportation has been a necessity for the northeast.
  • Around Independence, Assam’s per capita income was the highest in the country.
  • This was primarily because of access for its tea, timber, coal and oil industries to seaports on the Bay of Bengal via the Brahmaputra and the Barak River (southern Assam) systems.
  • Ferry services continued sporadically after 1947 but stopped after the 1965 war with Pakistan, as Bangladesh used to be East Pakistan then.
  • The scenario changed after the river routes were cut off and rail and road through the “Chicken’s Neck”, a narrow strip in West Bengal, became costlier alternatives.
  • The start of cargo movement through the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route is going to provide the business community a viable, economic and ecological alternative.

How did the water cargo service through Bangladesh come about?

  • The resumption of cargo transport service through the waterways in Bangladesh has come at a cost since the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade was signed between the two countries.
  • India has invested 80% of ₹305.84 crore to improve the navigability of the two stretches of the IBP (Indo-Bangladesh Protocol) routes — Sirajganj-Daikhowa and Ashuganj-Zakiganj in Bangladesh.
  • The seven-year dredging project on these two stretches till 2026 is expected to yield seamless navigation to the north-eastern region.
  • With this, the distance between NW1 and NW2 will reduce by almost 1,000 km once the IBP routes are cleared for navigation.

Policy boosts to IWs

  • The Government has undertaken the Jal Marg Vikas project with an investment of ₹4,600-crore to augment the capacity of NW1 for sustainable movement of vessels weighing up to 2,000 tonnes.
  • Sailors who made the cargo trips possible have had difficulties steering clear of fishing nets and angry fishermen in Bangladesh.
  • These hiccups will get sorted out with time.

Why go for IWT?

  • Inland Water Transport (IWT) is a fuel-efficient, environment friendly and cost effective mode of transport having potential to supplement the over-burdened rail and congested roads.
  • It is a boon where road transport is least feasible.

Back2Basics: Inland Waterways

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Inland Waterways

[pib] Assam Inland Water Transport Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Assam Inland Water Transport Project

Mains level : Inland water transport in India

India and the World Bank signed a loan agreement of $88 million for Assam Inland Water Transport Project.

Assam Inland Water Transport Project

  • A majority of Assam’s more than 361 ferry routes cross the Brahmaputra or serve its islands, providing a crucial means of transport to thousands of commuters in both the urban and rural areas of the Brahmaputra Valley.
  • The project will draw guidance from ‘working with nature’ principles that aim to design new infrastructure or rehabilitate existing infrastructure in a way that works with natural river processes.
  • The terminals will have better access, lighting and signage while the new vessels will allow for individual seats, and separate toilets. Moreover, a strengthened regulatory regime will ensure reduction in overloading, adherence to time schedule and better crew standards.
  • The Project will help Assam improve the passenger ferry infrastructure and its services and strengthen the capacity of the institutions running the inland water transport.


  • Inland Water Transport is also a more sustainable mode of transport. And Assam has the largest network of navigable waterways in India.
  • It provides low-carbon and low-cost options when compared to the cost of constructing and maintaining flood-resilient roads and bridges across the long stretches of the Brahmaputra river.
  • Technically better-designed terminals and energy-efficient vessels (both new and retrofitted) will make the ferry services more sustainable with least disruption to nature.

Inland Waterways

[pib] Least Available Depth Information System (LADIS) Portal


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, and Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: LADIS Portal

Mains level: Enhancing transport with the help of Inland Waterways


  • Moving a step ahead towards ensuring optimum use of National Waterways, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) launched a new portal LADIS – Least Available Depth Information System.

Least Available Depth Information System Portal

  1. IWAI has designed LADIS to facilitate the day to day operations of inland vessels plying on National Waterways and to avoid any hindrance in service and operation.
  2. It will enhance credibility and efficiency of information sharing to achieve seamless operations on National Waterways, besides pre-empting problems that may occur during movement of vessels.
  3. LADIS will ensure that real-time data on least available depths is disseminated for ship/barge and cargo owners so that they can undertake transportation on NWs in a more planned way.
  4. The portal being hosted on IWAI’s website has been developed in-house.
  5. Initially LAD information will be available for NW-1, NW-2, Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route and NW-3, along with the date of survey.

Utility of the Portal

  1. An assured depth of waterway is required for seamless movement of vessels.
  2. If real time information is made available regarding LADs in stretches of various NWs, it will help transporters by guiding them on the suitability of time of movement.

Inland Waterways

2nd phase of River Information System


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, and Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NW-1, Jal Vikas Marg Project, RIS, Hilsa Fish

Mains level: Enhancing cargo transport with the help of Inland Waterways


  • To boost cargo movement on Ganga, Union Transport Minister has inaugurated the second phase of river information system (RIS) between Farakka and Patna.

River Information System (RIS)

  1. RIS is a combination of tracking and meteorological equipment with specialized software designed to optimize traffic and transport processes in inland navigation.
  2. The system enables swift electronic data transfer between mobile vessels and shore (base stations) through advance and real-time exchange of information so as to ensure navigation safety in inland waterways.
  3. It also provides virtual navigational aids to guide the vessel during navigation.
  4. It will help in crisis management and enhanced inland navigation safety by preventing ship-to-ship collisions, ship-bridge collisions, groundings etc.

Implementation of Phase II

  1. The project is aimed at boosting the movement of cargo and fishery development in river Ganga.
  2. Under phase II, five base stations – Manihari, Bhagalpur, Munger, Barh and Hatidah and one control station have been made at Patna.
  3. IWAI is implementing the project in three phases on NW-1.
  4. The inauguration of 2nd phase of RIS will enhance swift electronic data transfer between mobile vessels and base stations on shore through advance and real-time exchange of information.

Other phases of RIS

  1. Earlier, in 2016, the first phase of RIS – 545 km on Haldia- Farakka stretch was commissioned.
  2. Work on third, 356 kms Patna-Varanasi stretch is currently in progress.

Hilsa Fish

  1. Hilsa has a history of migrating to Allahabad in the Ganga river system from Bangladesh.
  2. Though it’s a saltwater fish, it migrates to sweet waters of the Ganges from the Bay of Bengal.
  3. It travels upstream of the river during the mating seasons and returns to its natural abode after spawning.

A passage for Hilsa Fish

  1. Fish pass/Fish way is a structure on or around artificial and natural barriers (such as dams, locks and waterfalls) to facilitate natural fish migration.
  2. Most fishways enable fish to pass around the barriers by swimming into the waters on the other side.
  3. Under Jal Marg Vikas Pariyojana, a fish pass has been envisaged for the free movement of Hilsa at Farakka Navigation Lock.
  4. After the construction of Farakka Navigation Lock in 1976, movement of Hilsa, which once reached up to Prayagraj also, was restricted up to Farakka only.
  5. Based on research and breeding season of Hilsa Fish, the operation of navigational lock will be regulated to facilitate Hilsa movement from Hoogly-Bhagirathi-River system to the upstream in river Ganga and vice-versa.

National Waterways Bill 2015: Time to take to Water


The approval of the National Waterways Bill, 2015, by both Houses of Parliament clears the decks for increasing the use of India’s extensive network of rivers, canals and other water stretches for transport. Let’s see this in brief.

Under bill, 106 additional inland waterways will be added to the list of national waterways, taking the number to 111

Under Entry 24 of the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the central govt can make laws on shipping and navigation on inland waterways which are classified as national waterways by Parliament by law

Let’s see background of Inland Waterway Transport

<Why Govt has cleared decks for National waterways?>

  • Inland Water Transport is considered as the most cost effective and economical mode of transport from the point of view of fuel efficiency
  • One horse power can carry 4000 Kg load in water whereas, it can carry 150 Kg and 500 Kg by road and rail respectively
  • Further in a study as highlighted by the World Bank, 1 litre of fuel can move 105 ton-Km by inland water transport, whereas the same amount of fuel can move only 85 ton-Km by rail and 24 ton-Km by road
  • Studies have shown that emission from container vessels range from 32-36 gCO2 per ton-Km while those of road transport vehicles (heavy duty vehicles) range from 51-91gCO2 per ton-km.(Environment friendly)
  • Many countries in Europe and elsewhere carry over 40% of their passenger and freight traffic through water. But in India this proportion is only 3.5 per cent
  • Inland water transport’s share in the country’s total transport sector is less than 0.4%
  • This is partly because of the inability to shift cargo between modes of transport without disruption

Let’s learn about five existing and one proposed waterway


  1. Allahabad-Haldia Stretch of the Ganga Bhagirathi-Hooghly River
  2. Sadiya-Dhubri Stretch of Brahmaputra River
  3. Kollam-Kottapuram Stretch of West Coast Canal and Champakara and Udyogmandal Canals
  4. Kakinada-Puducherry Stretch of Canals and the Kaluvelly Tank
    Bhadrachalam-Rajahmundry Stretch of River Godavari and Wazirabad-Vijayawada Stretch of River Krishna
  5. Talcher-Dhamra Stretch of Rivers, Geonkhali-Charbatia Stretch of East Coast Canal, Charbatia-Dhamra Stretch of Matai River and Mahanadi Delta Rivers
  6. This is a proposed national waterway b/w Lakhipur and bhanga of the Barak river

What are the Benefits of inland waterways?

  • Recognised as fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, especially for bulk goods, hazardous goods and over dimensional cargos
  • Reduces time, cost of transportation of goods and cargos, as well as congestion and accidents on highways
  • Immense potential for domestic cargo transportation as well as for cruise, tourism and passenger traffic.
  • Systematic development will open up progressive economic and transport opportunities in the country
  • Open up considerable investment and business opportunities in the areas like water-based tourism, construction and operation of terminals, creation of storage accommodation, and provision of other facilities required for smooth water-based navigation
  • Help to generate millions of new jobs

Are there any limitations/ problems to implement this national waterway project?
If any, How to solve those limitations?

  • India’s water channels will need to have adequate width, depth and air clearance. Many rivers are seasonal, with water flows declining sharply after the monsoon
  • Navigating such rivers in the lean season may, therefore, require regular and extensive dredging and desilting
  • Higher water salinity, especially in the coastal regions and estuaries, and constant inflow of silt in the rivers can also be problematic
  • Water highways will require more river ports with their support infrastructure – road and rail connections, warehouses and other services
  • Heavy investment will be needed also to procure equipment, including dredgers, shipping vessels and barges of different sizes

What are the sources of funding and finances?

  • Financial approval of the competent authority for each waterway would be taken based on outcome of techno-economic feasibility studies, that are being undertaken by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI)
  • IWAI will develop the feasible stretch of National Waterways for shipping and navigation purpose through mobilization of financial resources
  • Govt will explore multiple sources of finance, including market borrowings and tapping the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) and the Central Roads Fund  (CRF)

<The National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) is a fund created in 2010-11 using the carbon tax – clean energy cess – for funding research and innovative projects in clean energy technologies of public sector or private sector entities, upto the extent of 40% of the total project cost. The Fund is designed as a non lapsable fund under Public Accounts>

<Central Road Fund (CRF) is a non-lapsable fund created under Section 6 of the Central Road Fund Act, 2000 out of a cess/tax imposed by Union Govt on consumption of Petrol and High Speed Diesel to develop and maintain National Highways, State roads (particularly those of economic importance and which provides inter-state connectivity), rural roads, railway under/over bridges etc.> 

To know what is cess, how it is different from tax and surcharge, click here

  1. Private participation in infrastructure is needed – but will be possible only if such ventures become economically viable. For this, they will require adequate and assured 2-way traffic
  2. But the traffic in bulk goods, such as coal, minerals, food grain, fertiliser and similar other commodities is often unidirectional, compelling the vessels to return empty or under-loaded. This aspect will need to be weighed and addressed

    Published with inputs from Arun
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