The World Bank has approved a $375 million loan to India’s first waterway project. The National Waterway 1 project is to create a water transport fairway on a 1,360-km stretch of the Ganga river between Varanasi and Haldia.
“NW1 passes through one of India’s most densely populated areas, and a sizeable 40 per cent of the country’s traded goods either originate from this resource-rich region or are destined for its teeming markets. While the region generates about 370 million tonnes of freight annually, only about 5 million tonnes currently travels by water,” says World Bank in a press release.
The project will help build the infrastructure needed to develop water transportation in the area. It will finance the construction of six multi-modal terminals, 10 RORO jetties, ship-repair facilities as well as passenger jetties along the river. It will also help modernise the ageing Farakka lock and add a new lock to allow for smoother passage of boats. The project will also help the Inland Waterways Authority of India acquire a state-of-the-art River Information System as well as navigation aids to make travel on the river safer and more reliable.
On the environmental implications of the project, the World Bank stresses that the project does not involve any abstraction or storage of water, nor will the navigation services planned affect the flow of the river. Furthermore, IWAI has decided to accept the currently available natural depths of the river – ranging from 3 metres in the lower stretches to 2 metres further upstream – for its proposed navigation channel, thus minimising the need for dredging.
The project will also support the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2,000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths. Where needed, temporary structures (bandals) made of natural materials such as bamboo will be erected to provide additional sailing depth. In addition, the project has introduced an innovative ‘assured depth’ contract framework to incentivise minimal dredging by agencies responsible for keeping the fairway open for navigation. These strategies have helped reduce the need for dredging in the navigation channel to only about 1.5 per cent of the river’s annual silt load. Even this limited dredging will only be done using modern, less intrusive technologies such as the water injection method, which has the additional advantage of ensuring that sediments remain within the river’s ecosystem.
The US$375 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has a 7-year grace period and a maturity of 17 years.