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Inland Waterway Vessel MV Lal Bahadur Shastri from Patna to Guwahati

Inland Waterway Vessel MV Lal Bahadur Shastri from Patna to Guwahati


  • GS 3 || Economy || Infrastructure || Transportation

Why in the news?

  • Union Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal flagged off an inland waterway vessel MV Lal Bahadur Shastri from Patna to Guwahati.


What is an inland waterway?

  • Inland waterway is a network of rivers, canals, backwaters, and creeks that can be utilized for transportation instead of or in addition to roads and rails.
  • India has nearly 14,500 km of navigable waterways, however, inland water transport (IWT) accounts for less than 1% of its freight traffic, compared to 35% in Bangladesh and 20% in Germany.

Benefits of Inland waterways

Potential of Inland waterways

  • India’s coastline stretches about 7500 kilometers, with around 14,500 kilometers of navigable waterways. This has enormous promise for building a more affordable and environmentally friendly means of transportation.
  • Inland waterways and coasts are currently used for only a small percentage of the Inland water transportation accounts for about 0.4 percent of trade and is consequently underutilized.
  • Logistics costs in India account for over 18 percent of the country’s GDP, which is significantly greater than in other countries. As a result, Indian goods are more expensive and thus less competitive. By delivering more and more items by waterways, the country’s logistics expenses can be significantly reduced.
  • Inland rivers have the potential to become India’s primary logistical artery, passing through the country’s most densely populated districts and resource-rich regions, and generating an estimated 40% of the country’s traded products. The region’s industries and industrial units will benefit from a seamless flow of goods to markets in India and overseas thanks to the network of a water-road-rail link. It will also provide farmers in this agriculturally rich Gangetic plain with more market access.

Challenges with the Inland waterways

  • Environmental impacts
    • Dredging operations will harm the riverbed and may cause habitat changes for a variety of aquatic plants and wildlife.
    • Dredging may also have an influence on aquifers along the river, reducing water’s ability to percolate underground.
    • The removal of river bed material during capital dredging in estuaries and river creeks might result in the introduction of surplus saline water into the creek or river. One of the reasons why Kerala has resisted numerous of the proposed waterways is because of this.
  • Investment and infrastructure issues
    • The sector’s investment requirements are 90,000 crore over the next few years to develop navigable routes, connectivity infrastructure to and from the hinterland, terminals, vessels, and repairing facilities.
    • In many states, there are ferry services on national waterways, but these are mostly unorganized d country boats.
    • Terminal facilities are also woefully inadequate in states like Kerala and Assam. Due to unplanned infrastructures along the river banks, there are threats to biodiversity.
  • Social issues
    • The lives of those who rely on rivers and creeks may be impacted by environmental changes. Impacts on the fishing community, individuals who rely on riverbank farming, and so on.
    • Another major worry is displacement, as land is necessary for a variety of facilities such as ports, jetties, and other infrastructure.
  • Lack of an adequate navigation system leads to unsafe passage and high travel time.
  • Fuel cost is another concern as the barges (high load vessels) run on high-speed diesel, the same fuel as used by trucks. If diesel price rises, it will be disadvantageous.

Steps taken

  • Constitutional provisions
    • Central list- Matters related to shipping and navigation on inland waterways, declared by Parliament to be national waterways, as regards mechanically propelled vessels and the rule of the road on such waterways are the responsibility of the central government.
    • Concurrent list- Matters related to shipping and navigation on inland waterways as regards mechanically propelled vessels, and the rule of the road on such waterways, and the carriage of passengers and goods on inland waterways, subject to the provisions with respect to national waterways, fall under the purview of both the Centre and the states.
  • The Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985
    • The Act provides for the establishment of an authority for the regulation and development of inland waterways for shipping and navigation and matters related to it.
    • Accordingly, The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was formed in 1986. It undertakes projects for the development and maintenance of IWT infrastructure on national waterways via grants received from the Ministry of Shipping.
  • Indian Vessels Act of 1917 (amended in 2007): It deals with the survey and registration of inland vessels, removal of obstructions in navigation, carriage of goods and passengers, prevention and control of pollution,
  • Inland Water Transport Policy 2001: Policy talks about IWT being the economical, fuel-efficient, and environment-friendly mode of transport. It recommends large-scale participation of the private sector both for the creation of infrastructure and for fleet operations.
  • National Waterways Act 2016
    • The Act declared 111 rivers or river stretches, creeks, estuaries as National (inland) Waterways.
    • It allows the Central Government to regulate these waterways for development with respect to shipping, navigation, and transport by means of mechanically propelled vessels.

Way forward

  • Private Partnership –The government should focus on developing navigation, channel operation and maintenance, and external connectivity infrastructure.
  • Private players can undertake terminal development, cargo and passenger handling, and building low-draft vessels and related repair facilities.
  • Industrial Incentives –The Government can mandate/incentivise industries in the proximity of national waterways to use this model for a portion of their shipments.
  • Public sector entities such as the Food Corporation of India, power plants, and refineries can be similarly mandated.
  • Sustainable transport model –For synergy, the government can promote industrial corridors along riverbanks and foster waterways-based industrialization.
  • This will not only ensure captive IWT cargo but also tackle the erosion of riverbanks as industries will tend to protect the land allotted to them.
  • Promoting tourism –Along with passenger terminal development, the government needs to offer financial support to ferry operators to improve safety and facilitate insurance coverage.
  • The Centre and States need to join hands to package and market river tourism in a big way to trigger a virtuous cycle.


Mains model Question

  • Discuss India’s inland water transportation possibilities. What role does it play in enhancing the logistics sector?