As highway projects continue to grapple with land acquisition hurdles and associated costs, shifting focus to more economical waterway projects makes more sense for the Union government, some experts said.
For instance, the total project cost of National Waterway-1 (Varanasi to Haldia) is Rs 5,369 crore or Rs 3.31 crore per km (its length is 1,620 km). Whereas, the 135-km Eastern Peripheral Expressway around Delhi is being constructed for Rs 4,418 crore or Rs 32.7 crore per km.
According to an Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) official, a focus on waterways is needed. A sector expert, who did not want to be named, said India was far behind on development in this regard. America and Europe aside, even China or Vietnam are utilising the full potential of their waterways.
By one estimate, 615 million tonnes of cargo is moved through waterways in Europe and 1.1 billion tonnes via the same mode in China, in a year. “Even Vietnam moves 45 million tonnes of cargo via waterways,” said the official quoted earlier.
The cost of moving cargo via waterways is estimated at Rs 1.2 per tonne-km. It is Rs 2.8 for road and Rs 1.85 for rail.
In May 2014, when Nitin Gadkari took charge of the shipping ministry, he said development of waterways was a priority, being less polluting, lower cost and less of an accident rate. Such development could add two per cent to gross domestic product, he’d said.
IWAI is working on 111 projects, after declaration of 106 waterways as national ones. These aim at transportation of goods across states. National Waterway-1, mentioned earlier, is to be completed by December 2018. The project includes multi-modal terminals at Varanasi (UP), Haldia (West Bengal), and Sahibganj (Jharkhand).