Rivers have defined India for centuries. The name India itself is based on river ‘Sindhu’. The geographical boundary of the country has long been called ‘the land of Sapt-Sindhu’. As the Harappan civilization declined, the epicenter of civilization shifted to the Ganges. The river Ganga plays a very important role in Hinduism, as a river as well as a deity. Today, the Indo-Gangetic plain is among the very rare regions of the world where perennial rivers exist. However, for decades, the option to use perennial rivers was not well explored. Modi government pushed for using Inland waterways after coming to power and developed National Waterway-1, Kolkata to Varanasi.
Many other waterways are in pipeline including some cross country ones. The Indo-Bangla waterway project which aims to connect the Meghna river of Bangladesh to Gomati River of Tripura. This would give India access to Ashuganj port of Bangladesh and make the Indian state of Tripura accessible through water.
The present route of ships is limited to Dawodkandi of Bangladesh which is 80 km from Sepahijala district of Tripura. The newly elected CM of Tripura, Biplab Kumar Deb is very enthusiastic for implementation of the Indo-Bangla waterway project as it has the capacity to revolutionize the transportation to the state.
The CM has been briefed over the findings of Joint Technical Committees on 15 km long Inland waterway project. “Of the 15 kilometres, around 13 kilometres need to be dredged on the Bangladesh side and the rest on the Indian part to allow small-medium sized vessels,” said an official.
CM has asked the officials of the Transport department of the state to hold a meeting with Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) to give a push to the Indo-Bangla waterway project and complete it as early as possible.
Biplab Deb wants the central government to finance the project as the state has limited financial resources. “Since the state has limited resources, we are of the opinion that the Centre must come forward to incur the expenditure to undertake the dredging,” said Deb. A team from the Ministry of Shipping visited the Srimantpur area of Sepahijala district of Tripura to measure the feasibility of the Indo-Bangla project.
The Inland Waterway would make the transport to Tripura very cheap and efficient. The land-based transport to Northeastern states is very inconvenient and costly therefore the water transport through Bangladesh could revolutionize the trade and commerce of Tripura.
Additionally, India is one of the largest importers of automotive fuels in the world. The growth in the economy has pushed the consumption of crude oil in the country and this raised the import bills of the country. Freight Transportation through waterways could bring the import bills down because it is more fuel efficient. In one litre of diesel, ships could carry 105 tonnes of load through waterways while road vehicles could carry only 24 tonnes and rail could carry only 85 tonnes in same amount of diesel.
In terms of fiscal efficiency too, waterways transportation is far more efficient than road or rail. The cost to transport 1-tonne freight through waterways is 1.19 rupees on average while for road transportation it 2.28 rupees and for railways, 1.41 rupees. The countries in Europe and North America developed sound infrastructure for waterways transportation over the decades. Our eastern neighbor also developed an efficient water transportation system in a very short period of time. But previous Indian governments had a lacklustre attitude towards developing water land transportation infrastructure. Modi government gave the responsibility to develop infrastructure to one of the best performing ministers, Nitin Gadkari. In upcoming years many more positive developments could be seen in waterways transportation. The development of waterways will do justice to the historical importance of rivers in Indian civilization.