Financial Daily
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Monday, January 22, 2001



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Is Ganga losing navigability?

Santanu Sanyal

THE Central Inland Water Transport Corporation (CIWTC), under the administrative control of the Shipping Ministry, raised a bill on the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), claiming Rs 55 lakh compensation. The CIWTC demanded relief from the IWAI, also under the Shipping Ministry, for the revenue loss it suffered following detention of its tugs in the Ganga river having inadequate water level.

A few weeks ago, the CIWTC had written to the IWAI, asking for the compensation. With the IWAI choosing not to reply, the CIWTC prepared the bill and sent it to the apex body, responsible for development and maintenance of the inland waterways in the cou ntry. the CIWTC, according to informed sources, will raise more bills on the IWAI.

In July last year, the IWAI authorities, it is reported, had confirmed to the CIWTC that the water level in the Ganga between Farakka and Allahabad would be maintained at two metres for at least 330 days in a year, thereby making it possible for the CIWT C to move its vessels along the stretch in October and November.

Accordingly, the CIWTC successfully conducted business. It got the order from the Uttar Pradesh Government to transport over 2,000 bales of jute goods, each weighing 350 kg. It provided a flotilla, comprising a tug and two barges, for carrying the cargo from Kolkata to Allahabad by the river route.

Hyundai, the South Korean giant, requisitioned three tugs from the CIWTC for transporting nearly 3,000 tonnes of the equipment for constructing a bridge near Allahabad. Hyundai did not ask for barges because it arranged for six barges on its own. It only needed three tugs for towing the barges.

The flotilla carrying the cargo of the Uttar Pradesh Government left Kolkata in the first week of October and traversed about 1,200 km over two months before reaching Varanasi. It got stuck there as the water level dropped below what was required. After waiting there for several days and seeing little prospect of the water level improving, both the carrier and the consignee of the cargo decided to unload the consignment at Varanasi and transport it by road to the destination. The flotilla is still there .

The fate of the Hyundai cargo was worse. The flotillas left Kolkata in batches, the last one having left in the third week of October. In two months, they covered 800 km and got stuck near Patna. Part of the cargo was unloaded there and transported by ro ad to the destination, while some part is still on board, presumably because there is still hope of resumption of the barge movement. With part of the load having gone, the vessels, it is felt, should be able to ply even in the less-than-two-metre draugh t. However, two of the tugs have come back.

The crux of the problem is the poor navigability of the Ganga at certain stretches. This impairs smooth movement of IWT vessels. The 1,620-km long stretch on the Ganga between Haldia and Allahabad was declared National Waterways No 1 in 1985. The IWAI, f ormed in 1986, has been carrying out its responsibility of developing, maintaining and administering the waterways. But the IWT traffic has not really picked up.

The IWAI, according to informed sources, has six dredgers, of which it owns two. Four others are believed to have been acquired on charter from different firms -- three from the public sector Dredging Corporation of India and one from a private firm in K olkata. One of the DCI dredgers recently sank into the river. Two other dredgers for the IWAI are believed to be under construction at Hooghly Dock and Port Engineering, a Kolkata-based public sector company. The Shipping Ministry has already cleared pro posals for the IWAI to acquire more dredgers.

What has gone wrong? Perhaps, the IWAI suffers from the lack of adequate dredging capacity. The combined capacity of all dredgers, it is felt, is not sufficient to meet the total IWT requirement. The country's navigable inland waterways of about 15,000 k m comprise more than 10,000 km in rivers and more than 4000 km in canals. The total length stated to be suitable for navigation by mechanised craft is 6,000 km. One wonders if the IWAI has the capacity to maintain the length. In the absence of a long-ter m dredging programme to maintain various waterways, the IWAI will find the job even more difficult.

Related links:
Non availability of minimum required water level -- CITWC tugs, barges stranded near Bihar, UP

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