Opening up of the India-Bangladesh protocol route for a seamless movement through waterways would be the start of a water grid programme.
The plan to create a water grid was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during her Budget speech on Friday.
The 1400-km long National Waterway-1 will be connected to the 1,600 km long India-Bangladesh protocol route via National Waterway-2, which is roughly 900 km in length.
“It would be the start of the water grid network, which will essentially mean free flow of water from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to Bangladesh via Haldia (West Bengal). It will translate into nearly 4,000 km of uninterrupted flow of water,” an official in the know told Business Standard.
Sitharaman, in her maiden Budget speech, said that on the lines of ‘One Nation, One Grid’ in the power sector, the government would develop gas grids, water grids and i-ways (information ways) in the country.
Similar studies are going on for waterways connectivity in Goa and Maharashtra. The idea behind the grid is to connect the waterways with rivers and ultimately the sea to have a seamless transportation of goods across the country and reduce logistics cost, said the official.
In October 2018, India and Bangladesh signed a pact for enhancing inland and coastal waterways connectivity between the two countries for trade and cruise movements.
According to the agreement, the two countries will use Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from India.
The Northeastern states would get connected directly to the ports of Kolkata and Haldia and Mongla in Bangladesh through the waterways, which would facilitate movement of export-import cargo and reduce the logistics costs.
A grant of Rs 450 crore had been earmarked for the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) this year for the development and regulation of inland waterways for shipping and navigation.
The authority primarily undertakes infrastructure development and regulation of National Waterways.
Besides IWAI, an allocation of over Rs 600 crore has been made in Budget 2019-20 for inland waterway projects, including provision for externally-aided projects of IWAI (funded through World Bank or ADB).
The funds are also meant for implementation and commissioning of projects – construction of multi-modal terminals in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Sahibganj (Jharkhand) and Haldia (West Bengal) as well as navigational lock in Farakka (West Bengal) and other ancillary projects under the Jal Marg Vikas Project or JMVP.