Utilise the full potential
Inland shipping does not play the role it really could in India’s transport networks, which are riddled with bottlenecks. The country’s National Waterways Act, which entered into force in April, has been designed to change this state of affairs.
The scenario resembles a déjà vu and reached a new high in August. This time it was Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai (formerly Nhava Sheva), India’s largest container gateway, whose throughput was blocked on account of inadequate goods flows. It is not clear who was to blame. Was it the policies implemented by private terminals, as the port authority stated, or a lack of port transport services, as shippers complained? The fact of the matter is: there is clearly a lack of capacities in the hinterland.
According to experts such as Alistair Mackie, of the London-based law firm Holman Fenwick Willan’s, the fastest-growing large emerging economy India, which grew by 7.9% in Q1 / 2016, is running well below its full trading potential. On top of this the country’s maritime industry still remains capable of offering container handling and processing times of up to 19 days. Thus the Indian government has now introduced remedial measures, in order to develop the country’s intermodal transport capacities.
Offside for a mode of transport
The inland shipping mode is the talk of the town in India too, not least thanks to its classic cost and fuel-efficiency, as well as the fact that it is not too harsh on the environment. The sector nevertheless stood in the shadow of the other modes, as the text of the country’s new inland waterway law admits. “As inland shipping has lagged behind the country’s road and rail networks so far, the central government has now developed a policy for the integrated advancement of the sector.” The new law entered into force in April 2016.
The bill has defined 106 waterways as national waterways, in addition to five previously existing national waterways. The law will enable the government to become directly involved in providing financial support for the development of the country’s waterway infrastructure.
The present and the future
The new status will ensure that 4,500 km of an estimated 14,500 km of potentially navigable waterways in the country come into national custody. The state’s role in maintaining and repairing the rivers and canals, which in the USA is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, for example, is a central element of the sector in India too. Steady silting of the waterways calls for ongoing dredging. As parts of the network are only seasonally navigable, there are currently only a maximum of around 1,000 barges operating on the waterways at all.
Financing the programme is its most important element. The central government wants the governments of India’s constituent states concerned to chip in with 26% of the costs. There has not been a single placet from the states so far, however.
Building work supported by the World Bank to enhance the capacity of 1,600 km of the river Ganga has started. The stretch runs between Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, and Haldia, a riverine port in West Bengal on the Hooghly river, a distributary of the Ganga. A feasibility study for a 5,600 ha multimodal terminal in Ramnagar, also on the Ganga, was presented in May. The hope remains that it will not represent but a drop in the ocean.