The Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways (MoPSW) is working on ramping up coal supplies through the inland waterways network. It is looking at the transport of 41.06 million tonnes (mt) of coal in the current fiscal, up 17 per cent on the 35.19 mt moved in FY23, Union Minister of Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal told businessline.

Coal transportation through the waterways has seen 16.71 per cent compounded annual growth since 2019, according to numbers available with the Ministry.

In FY19, 18.96 mt was transported through the inland waterways, which increased to 21.75 mt in FY20, 24.06 mt in FY21, and to 30.61 mt in FY22.

“From 16 mt in 2014, the total cargo handled through the inland waterways network has now increased to over 130 mt in the last five years (cumulative). The majority of this is coal. By 2030, we are targeting to ramp-up cargo handling to 200 mt and also extend the inland waterways network,” Sonowal said.

“Discussions are on with many ministries, including power and mines for the transport of coal; with the Petroleum Ministry for the movement of LPG; and with the Food Corporation of India for the movement of foodgrains,” he added.

Also read: ‘Inland waterways can aid in decongesting coal belts in east India’

111 National Waterways

According to Sonowal, only five of the more than 400 river networks in the country have been developed into National Waterways. However, after a study conducted by a techno-economic feasibility committee of the Ports Ministry, it was decided that 111 of these river systems could be developed into National Waterways. Of these, 26 are navigable.

The current focus is the development of National Waterways 5 along the Brahmani-Mahanadi route. National Waterways 5 passes through West Bengal and Odisha, and there are three routes that include the East Coast Canal and Matai River, covering 256 km; the Brahmani, Kharsua, and Dhamra rivers, covering 265 km; and the Mahanadi delta rivers (consisting of the Hansua river, Nunanala, Gobrinala, Kharnasi river, and Mahanadi river), covering 67 km.

“We are developing jetties and multimodal transport hubs along these waterways to aid coal and cargo movement. Investments are being made in dredging activities. So, besides cargo vessels, cruises have also begun moving along the various riverways,” Sonowal said.

As investments across the waterways increase and cargo movement picks up, the cost of goods movement (per km cost) will see a substantial reduction “to single digits”, he said.

Earlier this month, the Minister laid the foundation stone for an Inland Waterways Transport Terminal at Bogibeel in Assam. A tourist and cargo terminal will be developed along the banks of the Brahmaputra on National Waterways 2, at an estimated cost of around ₹50 crore.

The National Waterways 2, covering 891 km, covers the Brahmapurta river from Dhubri to Sadiya in Assam.