Gov­er­nance: Why the boats don’t sail?

Lit­tle has changed in the field of pas­sen­ger or cargo in­land wa­ter trans­porta­tion in the coun­try over the last two decades

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Lit­tle has changed in the field of pas­sen­ger or cargo in­land wa­ter trans­porta­tion in the coun­try over the last two decades

THE Na­tional Water­ways Act, passed in both Houses of Par­lia­ment in March 2016, in­creased the num­ber of na­tional water­ways across the coun­try from the ear­lier 6 to 111, with plans of con­nect­ing the coun­try with Myan­mar via Bangladesh through water­ways. In an in­ter­view to PTI in May 2017, the Union Trans­port and Ship­ping Min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari said, “The Cabi­net has ap­proved ` 2,000 crore from CFR and we can eas­ily get works done worth ` 12,000 crore from that by rais­ing more funds. It is my en­deav­our to op­er­a­tionalise 10 water­ways be­fore De­cem­ber 2018,” Yet, ir­re­spec­tive of whether the num­ber of na­tional Water­ways is 2, 6 or 111, lit­tle has changed in the field of pas­sen­ger or cargo In­land wa­ter trans­porta­tion in the coun­try over the last two decades. And the only time the sub­ject makes it to the news is ei­ther to re­port an ac­ci­dent or to an­nounce a new gov­ern­ment procla­ma­tion or scheme that may or may not ever see the light of the day.

The Ac­ci­dents

On April 30, 2012, in one of the worst river travel ac­ci­dents in the coun­try, a mo­torised wooden coun­try-

boat cap­sized in the Brahma­pu­tra at Me­dat­tari, Dhubri dis­trict of As­sam drown­ing 103 peo­ple. By var­i­ous es­ti­mates the boat, the most ubiq­ui­tous type in the state, car­ried 350 or more pas­sen­gers, which was at least 200 per cent over-ca­pac­ity. It may have also in­cluded live­stock be­cause such ves­sels serve as the only mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the towns and vil­lages on the river banks, and the mas­sive river­ine is­lands known lo­cally as Chars or Cha­poris. Nick Bram­ley, the Chair­man of the In­land Navigation Sec­tion In­ter­na­tional Trans­port Work­ers Fed­er­a­tion, com­ment­ing on the ac­ci­dent said, “Ev­ery­thing points to poor train­ing, dan­ger­ous work­ing prac­tices, in­ad­e­quate reg­u­la­tion and near non-ex­is­tent en­force­ment as be­ing the root causes for this and sim­i­lar losses of life.” These hard-hit­ting and un­flat­ter­ing words are a true ap­praisal of the cur­rent state of river travel of not only As­sam, but equally ap­pli­ca­ble to most of In­dia wher­ever river cross­ing on boats is an in­te­gral part of life. More re­cently, on Au­gust 26, 2015, this time in Ker­ala, a fish­ing trawler rammed into a KSWTD (Ker­ala State Wa­ter Trans­port Depart­ment) ferry near Kochi Fort, killing 11 per­sons and in­jur­ing 20 oth­ers. The cause of the ac­ci­dent was first at­trib­uted to the fish­ing trawler’s driver los­ing con­trol due to waves cre­ated by Navy boats cruis­ing nearby at high speeds, but later it was dis­cov­ered that he didn’t even posses the nec­es­sary driver’s li­cense. The un­for­tu­nate ferry, MB Bharath, a 35-year-old steel and wood ves­sel, as per the de­scrip­tion of wit­nesses “cracked like bis­cuit.” It was also short of life jack­ets and the lo­cal Manorama News quoted “Ac­cord­ing to the fitness cer­tifi­cate, the boat should have 42 lifebuoys. But MB Bharath had only three.” The fol­low­ing month of Septem­ber 2015, in an­other river ac­ci­dent in As­sam about 20 peo­ple went miss­ing af­ter a boat car­ry­ing about 200 per­sons cap­sized on the Kalahi river at Sam­pu­para near Chaigaon af­ter hit­ting an un­der­wa­ter ob­ject. In May 2016, again in Ker­ala, a car fell off a ferry be­tween Sta­tionka­davu and VP Thu­ruth drown­ing its driver and as per the rules the ves­sel wasn’t even al­lowed to carry any 3 or 4-wheeled ve­hi­cles. In the same month, 20 per­sons drowned af­ter an over­crowded coun­try boat cap­sized in the Ganges near Kalna Ghat in Bard­haman dis­trict, Ben­gal. The ad­min­is­tra­tion claimed that the boat was fer­ry­ing around 55 peo­ple, who were re­turn­ing from a fair. How­ever eye­wit­nesses said that it had over 200 pas­sen­gers and about 100 had drowned or got car­ried away by the river cur­rent. April this year saw 15 lives be­ing lost when a wooden boat jetty in Ben­gal’s Te­leni­para in Bhadresh­war area of Hooghly dis­trict col­lapsed dur­ing the morn­ing high tide in the Hooghly river. The lat­est wa­ter­way ac­ci­dent took place in As­sam last month in Septem­ber 2017, with 10 per­sons drown­ing when four vil­lage boats cap­sized in Sabon river dur­ing a sud­den storm in As­sam’s Goal­para dis­trict.

Cur­rent State of Af­fairs

AF­TER the 2015 ac­ci­dent at Kochi, the Ker­ala State Wa­ter Trans­port Depart­ment de­cided to go for a long over­due re­place­ment of their fleet with new twin-en­gine dou­ble hull cata­ma­rans made from fiber­glass-re­in­forced plas­tic (FRP) at a cost of ` 1.5 crore each. The laud­able choice in se­lect­ing of such ves­sels was a marked de­par­ture from the tra­di­tional mind­set of river navigation author­i­ties that so far had al­ways re­lied upon metal fer­ries. The FRP twin-hulled cata­ma­rans of­fer un­par­al­leled safety and econ­omy in the in­land wa­ter en­vi­ron­ment due to their twin hulls, light com­pos­ite rust-proof struc­ture and high im­pact re­sis­tance. A so­lar pow­ered elec­tric Cata­ma­ran Ferry “Aditya” made by a pri­vate com­pany Navalt So­lar and Elec­tric Boats, has also been com­mis­sioned in the state in March 2017 and has been run­ning suc­cess­fully till date, cre­at­ing a revo­lu­tion in river trans­port. In As­sam, things haven’t changed much since the fate­ful day in 2012 and de­spite be­ing des­ig­nated Na­tional Wa­ter­way No.2, the Brahma­pu­tra re­mains any­thing but one. Cargo ves­sels are vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent; most of the gov­ern­ment owned fer­ries are grounded or have be­come float­ing piles of rust and pas­sen­ger trans­porta­tion largely com­prises of mo­torised wooden coun­try boats, lo­cally known as “Bhutb­hutis”; the same kind that sank in Dhubri. The In­land Wa­ter Trans­port Depart­ment of As­sam (IWTDA) has only 66 (36 as per an­other re­port) op­er­a­tional ves­sels out of an orig­i­nal fleet of 215. Most are are slow

The In­land Wa­ter Trans­port Depart­ment of As­sam has only 66 op­er­a­tional ves­sels out of an orig­i­nal fleet of 215. When the river goes into spate, most of the ves­sels are docked and river trans­port comes to a stand­still, as the boat’s en­gines don’t have the power to go against the cur­rent

steel ferry boats ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing speeds of only 2-4 knots, un­eco­nom­i­cal due to high fuel and main­te­nance ex­penses. Dur­ing the rains when the river goes into spate, most of the ves­sels are docked and river trans­port comes to a stand­still, as the boat’s en­gines don’t have the power to go against the cur­rent. The lack of ves­sels causes large in­ter­vals in-be­tween ser­vice tim­ings of the few ply­ing fer­ries and con­se­quently, river traf­fic is dom­i­nated by the Bhutb­hutis, hav­ing abysmally low safety stan­dards, lack­ing ba­sic safety equip­ment and usu­ally out­fit­ted with agri­cul­tural or re­con­di­tioned au­to­mo­tive diesel en­gines. More­over, be­cause of lax en­force­ment, they are of­ten grossly over­loaded with pas­sen­gers and ve­hi­cles. To­day there are over 6,000 such boats ply­ing the Brahma­pu­tra in As­sam alone and cur­rently with no al­ter­na­tives, the gov­ern­ment is in no po­si­tion to ei­ther reg­u­late or ban them. The sit­u­a­tion in Ben­gal is al­most iden­ti­cal with As­sam again with a skele­ton gov­ern­ment ferry ser­vice com­pris­ing of float­ing rust buck­ets and with over 12,000 lit­tle-reg­u­lated Bhutb­hutis ply­ing its water­ways. Goa is prob­a­bly the only state in the In­dian main­land that con­tin­ues to have a rea­son­ably func­tional gov­ern­ment run pas­sen­ger river trans­port sys­tem. Their many fer­ries may be of an in­ef­fi­cient ar­chaic de­sign, but nonethe­less they run with­out ac­ci­dents trans­port­ing thou­sands of peo­ple ev­ery day, that to free of cost. The state also had the most suc­cess­ful river based cargo trans­porta­tion sys­tem in the coun­try com­pris­ing of pri­vately owned river barges that trans­ported iron ore to the sea port. The sys­tem col­lapsed overnight with the ban on min­ing in the state turn­ing them into NPAs. Procla­ma­tions In April 2017, the newly elected BJP State gov­ern­ment of As­sam or­gan­ised the con­tro­ver­sial Na­mami Brahma­pu­tra Fes­ti­val. Pro­moted as the “Big­gest River Fes­ti­val of In­dia,” the quasi-re­li­gious-tourism event was planned on the lines of the Sindhu Darshan Ya­tra and Na­mami Gange fes­ti­vals toe­ing the line of the party’s saf­fron agenda. How­ever, shortly af­ter its in­au­gu­ra­tion a mas­sive storm fol­lowed by heavy rain­fall in­un­dated the venue and raised the river’s wa­ter lev­els dan­ger­ously, much to the de­light of its crit­ics who quickly dubbed it “Tsunami Brahma­pu­tra.”

IT was dur­ing this fes­ti­val that the State’s Trans­port Min­is­ter Sri Chan­dra Mo­han Pa­to­wary an­nounced the plan of in­tro­duc­ing 50 wa­ter-taxis, in­clud­ing a city (Guwahati) to air­port link to beat the traf­fic con­ges­tion. So far no wa­ter- taxis have been ac­quired but some steps seem to have been ini­ti­ated with the State’s IWT re­leas­ing an ad­ver­tise­ment in Septem­ber call­ing for Ex­pres­sion of In­ter­est from man­u­fac­tur­ers. Mak­ing loud dec­la­ra­tions with re­gards to wa­ter trans­port, but fail­ing to reach the first stages of im­ple­men­ta­tion has be­come a repet­i­tive pat­tern of suc­ces­sive As­sam gov­ern­ments. Ear­lier in 2011, the then Tourism and Trans­port Min­is­ter Chan­dan Brahma an­nounced the plan to pur­chase two im­ported lux­ury high-speed cata­ma­rans at a cost of 7 crore each, for tak­ing tourists from Guwahati to the river­ine is­land of Ma­juli. Luck­ily, they were not ac­quired as the lack of tourists aside, this class of high-speed ves­sels is com­pletely un­suit­able for a shal­low braided river sys­tem like the Brahma­pu­tra. And even if they were, their fate would have been the same as the MV Ma­habahu, As­sam

Tourism depart­ment’s am­bi­tious JV project which has turned into a float­ing white ele­phant. In 2013 the state’s tourism depart­ment re­leased a ten­der for ac­quir­ing a river yacht, but with so many self­con­tra­dic­tory tech­ni­cal er­rors that most man­u­fac­tur­ers didn’t dare bid. This Septem­ber 2017, wak­ing up to the state of the river ves­sels ply­ing in the state and the plight of the sev­eral lakhs of pas­sen­gers us­ing them daily, the Ben­gal trans­port min­is­ter Su­vendu Ad­hikari un­veiled a new stan­dard­ised model and handed over the de­sign spec­i­fi­ca­tions to 20 ves­sel man­u­fac­tur­ers af­ter in­au­gu­rat­ing the new Jal­ad­hara scheme for water­ways. Four steel ves­sels were also handed over to four mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the state. “We want these bhutb­hutis to be com­pletely re­placed by safe boats de­signed by Shal­i­mar Works, the ship­build­ing PSU un­der the trans­port depart­ment. We will of­fer a sub­sidy of ` 1 lakh to those who will re­place their bhutb­hutis. We will also re­quest the man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­tro­duce buy­back scheme of their old boats to pro­vide in­cen­tive for the re­place­ment process,” said Ad­hikari.

Ini­tia­tives

RO-RO (Roll On-Roll Off) fer­ries are wa­ter­crafts that carry both peo­ple and ve­hi­cles like cars, com­mer­cial and cargo ve­hi­cles have be­come al­most syn­ony­mous with in­land and bay area fer­ries around the world. Not sur­pris­ingly, this class of ves­sels has caught the imag­i­na­tion of both the Cen­tral and State author­i­ties in In­dia with plans of de­ploy­ing them all over the coun­try from As­sam to Gujarat, Ma­ha­rash­tra and Ker­ala. Early 2017 saw the ar­rival of such a new RO-RO river ves­sel in As­sam, sup­pos­edly as a gift from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment hav­ing a price tag of ` 10 crore. The 250 MT DWT (Dead Weight Ton­nage or a ves­sel’s dis­place­ment) ves­sel had been named MV Gopinath Bor­doloi and since July this year, it has been as­signed duty be­tween Dhubri and Hatsingi­mari bor­der­ing Megha­laya to re­duce the cir­cuitous road dis­tance of 220 km for ve­hi­cles and trucks. Sur­pris­ingly, the op­er­a­tion of the ves­sel has been en­trusted to the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s In­land Water­ways Author­ity of In­dia (IWAI) and not to the state’s In­land Wa­ter Trans­port depart­ment. By do­ing so, the Min­istry of Ship­ping has ef­fec­tively side-stepped the state gov­ern­ment and kept things un­der its di­rect con­trol. It is pur­port­edly the first of six ves­sels of its class to en­ter ser­vice as part of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment’s am­bi­tious plan of re­viv­ing river based cargo trans­port. Also in the plans, is to dredge the Brahma­pu­tra and build a mas­sive cargo trans­ship­ment and load­ing ter­mi­nal in west­ern As­sam in or­der to carry loaded trucks up­stream up to Di­bru­garh via the river to re­duce the cost of sur­face trans­porta­tion. Some­what like how Konkan rail­way is do­ing in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Goa car­ry­ing trucks pig­gy­back on rail­way racks. And once again the state ma­chin­ery, in­clud­ing the Brahma­pu­tra Board has been largely kept out of the loop and the task is go­ing to be un­der­taken by IWAI and the Na­tional Dredg­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, with As­sam’s Min­istry of Trans­port and that of River Re­sources re­duced to spec­ta­tors or at the most a cheer­leader’s role. Fur­ther­more, some of the ques­tions that have yet re­mained unan­swered are: How would the ves­sels be freed if they get stuck in the river’s many sand-banks? How would the trucks be un­loaded if the ves­sel breaks down mid-river? What would be the re­turn cargo down­stream? Whether a full loaded ves­sel can pass through the shal­low sec­tions or if it has the re­quired en­gine power to travel up­stream dur­ing sum­mer at the time of peak wa­ter flow?

In Ker­ala, one is wit­ness to a clas­sic bu­reau­cratic stale­mate that show­cases all that is wrong in the field of in­land wa­ter trans­port in the coun­try; from de­lays to lack of plan­ning, in­fra­struc­ture and co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the con­cerned agen­cies

IT can­not be de­nied that for over one hun­dred years, river-based trans­port did dom­i­nate the Brahma­pu­tra val­ley, but had all but ceased by the late 1990s. Till then, the Cen­tral In­land Wa­ter Cor­po­ra­tion Barges car­ried tea from As­sam to Kolkata via Bangladesh and brought in heavy ma­chin­ery for the re­finer­ies, and the state’s In­land Wa­ter Trans­port depart­ment still had a sem­blance of a fleet. How­ever, the com­bi­na­tion of ram­pant cor­rup­tion, aged ves­sels, bu­reau­cratic in­com­pe­tence and flip-flop­ping re­la­tions with Bangladesh sounded the death knell of both the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional river freight on the river. Mean­while, in Ker­ala in tan­dem with the KSWT, the Ker­ala Ship­ping and In­land Navigation Cor­po­ra­tion (KSINC) has also started con­struc­tion of a twin-en­gine fi­bre­glass boat for the Kochi Cor­po­ra­tion. The Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) has also em­barked on an am­bi­tious ` 747 core Wa­ter Metro project, again

adopt­ing the cata­ma­ran de­sign; the first of their fer­ries is cur­rently be­ing built in a ship­yard in Goa. The Stale­mates While the first RO-RO fa­cil­ity has been al­ready launched in As­sam, ac­tu­ally the coun­try’s first such ser­vice was sup­posed to have started in April this year be­tween Ghogha in Bhavnagar dis­trict and Da­hej in Gujarat across the Gulf of Cam­bay, to re­duce a road dis­tance of 231 km to 30 nau­ti­cal kilo­me­ters and travel time from seven hours to less than one hour. The to­tal project cost was ini­tially es­ti­mated to be ` 234 crore, with 50 per cent funded by the Min­istry of Ship­ping’s Sa­gar­mala pro­gramme.

THE lat­est news about this project dates back to March 2017, cit­ing that the project cost had ap­pre­ci­ated to ` 615 crore and that it would be in­au­gu­rated by Naren­dra Modi dur­ing his next visit to his home state. But con­sid­er­ing the PM’s much­pub­li­cised re­cent visit to his mother for seek­ing her bless­ings on his birth­day on Septem­ber 17, there was no ref­er­ence to the project al­ready de­layed by five years. In Goa, in 2015 the gov­ern­ment an­nounced that a mod­ern ferry ser­vice would once again con­nect Vasco to Dona Paula, Panaji in 20 min­utes, short­en­ing a road dis­tance of over an hour from Jan­uary 2016 on­wards. The Mor­mu­gao Port Trust (MPT), un­der the Min­istry of Ship­ping, Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, had floated a ten­der to restart ferry ser­vices from Baina in Vasco to Panaji that had been dis­con­tin­ued for two decades. Sub­se­quently, Dr­ishti Marine So­lu­tions Pvt Ltd, Mum­bai, was awarded the ten­der for the low­est fare of ` 100 per per­son. Al­most two years later in April 2017, still with no ferry, it was de­clared that the ser­vice would start from Oc­to­ber this year and that the com­pany had re­ceived all the nec­es­sary clear­ances and that the MPT had al­lo­cated them 1,500 sq.m land on Baina beach. The fol­low­ing month Goa news­pa­pers re­ported a mas­sive fire on the Baina Beach where 33 float­ing docks, which were to be used as a float­ing jetty for the pro­posed ferry, were gut­ted. The com­pany al­leged sab­o­tage by vested in­ter­ests that wanted to hin­der their op­er­a­tions. Fur­ther south on the same coast­line, in Ker­ala, one is wit­ness to a clas­sic bu­reau­cratic stale­mate that show­cases all that is wrong in the field of in­land wa­ter trans­port in the coun­try; from de­lays to lack of plan­ning, in­fra­struc­ture and co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the con­cerned agen­cies. Here we have not one, but two ready RO-RO ves­sels Sethusagar I and Sethusagar II built by Cochin Ship­yards at the cost of ` 3.8 crore each, or­dered by the Kochi City Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion for ply­ing in the Vypeen-Fort Kochi sec­tor. Each of these 150 MT DWT ves­sels is ca­pa­ble of trans­port­ing 50 pas­sen­gers, 12 cars and four lor­ries or 50 pas­sen­gers, 18 cars and 50 two-wheel­ers. Or­dered in March 2015, the de­liv­ery of the ves­sels was sup­posed to be in July 2016 but was de­layed to De­cem­ber 2016 for the first ves­sel and Fe­bru­ary this year for the sec­ond. The Cor­po­ra­tion too wasn’t in a hurry to take pos­ses­sion claim­ing that the ter­mi­nals for the ves­sels were not ready. Both the ves­sels were fi­nally in­au­gu­rated in a func­tion in March 2017 but left idling in the docks. A news item dated June 3, 2017 stated that the Kochi City Cor­po­ra­tion author­i­ties were plan­ning to en­trust the op­er­a­tion of the RO-RO ves­sels to the KSINC (Ker­ala State In­land Navigation Cor­po­ra­tion) af­ter de­cid­ing that they them­selves were not com­pe­tent to run a ferry ser­vice. How­ever, by mid July 2017 they ap­par­ently changed their minds as the KSINC de­manded that both the ves­sels be handed over to them along with funds for op­er­at­ing them. They also de­cided against leas­ing out the ves­sels to con­trac­tors fol­low­ing a pub­lic outcry. “The de­ci­sion was taken fol­low­ing pub­lic de­mand. We’ll form a com­pany for op­er­a­tion of the ves­sels, how­ever, it would take some time for the process to com­plete,”

Kochi Mayor Soumini Jain told the Dec­can Chron­i­cle. Mean­while, there were also de­mands that the op­er­a­tion of the RO-RO ser­vices be en­trusted to the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL), which is start­ing their own Wa­ter Metro Ser­vice.

SO the im­passe con­tin­ues as to who would fi­nally op­er­ate the RO-RO ser­vice, leav­ing the two ves­sels docked and they would prob­a­bly re­main so even if the bu­reau­cratic hur­dles are over­come be­cause, as of mid sum­mer the Cochin Port Trust was still to com­plete the con­struc­tion of the jet­ties. Fur­ther­more, a July Times of In­dia ar­ti­cle on this sub­ject fleet­ingly men­tioned that “the ves­sels should se­cure all clear­ances, in­clud­ing safety cer­tifi­cates, from author­i­ties con­cerned” thus rais­ing the le­git­i­mate ques­tion that af­ter all this time, do the ves­sels have the nec­es­sary doc­u­men­ta­tion and clear­ances?

A Global Re­vival

The In­dian gov­ern­ment’s re­cent thrust on re­viv­ing In­land wa­ter trans- port has mostly fo­cused on freight and cargo, and ex­cept for Ker­ala, no se­ri­ous ef­fort has been made any­where on mod­ernising pas­sen­ger trans­port. Lakhs of com­muters still have to de­pend upon ut­terly un­safe and un-reg­u­lated coun­try boats and the ar­chaic steel and metal fer­ries be­long­ing to the var­i­ous State Gov­ern­ments hem­or­rhage their or­ga­ni­za­tion due to their in­ef­fi­ciency and high cost of own­er­ship. Glob­ally, pas­sen­ger trans­port on in­land water­ways has been on a re­bound as road traf­fic con­ges­tion

and over­load­ing of ur­ban tran­sit pub­lic trans­port has peo­ple restart­ing dis­con­tin­ued wa­ter routes or in­tro­duc­ing new ones. Take, for ex­am­ple, New York, where pas­sen­ger fer­ries ceased ply­ing on the Hud­son and East River in 1967 due to the Metro and nu­mer­ous bridges. Un­til in 1981 a new ferry ser­vice, NY Wa­ter­way was launched and to­day it trans­ports an av­er­age of 35,000 peo­ple per day with its fleet of 33 fer­ries, mostly cata­ma­rans, mak­ing eight mil­lion pas­sen­ger trips per year and ser­vic­ing 21 routes. Their main busi­ness ri­val New York Wa­ter Taxi (NYWT) op­er­ates a fleet of 12 cata­ma­rans, whereas their new­est com­peti­tor, the East River Ferry, launched in 2011 met their three-year goal of 1.2 mil­lion rid­ers in only 14 months.

IN Eng­land, the Thames was one of the busiest water­ways in the world up to the 20th cen­tury, but its im­por­tance di­min­ished with the ex­pan­sion of road and rail net­works. So from WW I on­wards the river had no reg­u­lar ferry ser­vice un­til 1999, when MBNA Thames Clippers started a river bus ser­vice. To­day they op­er­ate both com­muter and tourist routes be­tween eastern and cen­tral Lon­don trans­port­ing about 8,500 pas­sen­gers daily in 15 high-speed cata­ma­rans. Head­ing south to Africa, in Nige­ria, the La­gos State Gov­ern­ment re­vived the pub­lic ferry ser­vices af­ter they stopped ply­ing for over 18 years. To­day the water­ways are full of small 30-50 seat fer­ries op­er­ated by gov­ern­ment and pri­vate com­pa­nies. In 2011, Earth­wise Ven­tures in­tro­duced the MV Amani and MV Blu­bird, two 65 foot FRP cata­ma­rans that can carry 125 pas­sen­ger each, that tra­verse Lake Vic­to­ria in un­der 10 hours, once again im­prov­ing con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween Uganda, Kenya and Tan­za­nia. In Asia, south­ern China has one of the most ef­fec­tively utilised cargo and pas­sen­ger river trans­port sys­tems in the world. There are high speed cata­ma­rans con­nect­ing Hongkong to Guangzhou and Ma­cau across the Zhu­jiang (Pearl) river’s es­tu­ary, and eight other in­land river routes con­nect­ing all the ma­jor cities of the delta. Up north, split by the Yangtze river, Wuhan and Wuchan are con­nected by seven bridges and yet the Wuhan Ferry Cor­po­ra­tion, es­tab­lished in 1900, reg­u­larly plies fer­ries on three cross­ings ev­ery day. There are also daily pas­sen­ger and tourist cruises trav­el­ling all the way to Shang­hai a dis­tance of 1,125 km. In Shang­hai too, pas­sen­ger fer­ries con­tinue to criss­cross the Huangpu River. Still Nau­ti­cal Miles To Go Af­ter decades of ut­ter ne­glect, there is fi­nally a gov­ern­ment level re­al­iza­tion in In­dia that in­land wa­ter trans­port is a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to over­land trans­port and is a sec­tor that ur­gently needs re­vival. How­ever, the legacy of ram­pant cor­rup­tion, red tape, ap­a­thy and lack of funds of the var­i­ous gov­ern­ment bod­ies in charge of in­land wa­ter trans­port is not some­thing that can be over­come eas­ily. And even with all the new ini­tia­tives there are glar­ing ques­tions that re­main unan­swered. Such as how come the IWAI which was con­ceived for de­vel­op­ment and main­te­nance of IWT in­fra­struc­ture on na­tional water­ways and con­duct of river sur­veys and map­ping, in­stalling nav­i­ga­tional aids and dredg­ing to keep a min­i­mal draft, has sud­denly been el­e­vated to the po­si­tion of a ves­sel oper­a­tor as in the case of the Ro-Ro ferry in As­sam? Sim­i­larly, why is that a 150 MT DWTRO-RO ferry built in Ker­ala costs ` 3.8 crore, but a 250 DWT Ferry of the same class op­er­at­ing in As­sam costs ` 10 crore; al­most 3 times the cost but at less than dou­ble in dis­place­ment? Even to­day, with all the steps taken for res­ur­rect­ing the field, it still re­mains un­der ex­clu­sive gov­ern­ment po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic con­trol where iron­i­cally the only win­ners in the pas­sen­ger river travel sec­tor are the Bhutb­huti own­ers op­er­at­ing with full im­punity and the un­scrupu­lous of­fi­cials who get their monthly cut from them. A more prag­matic ap­proach would be hand­ing it over partly or in full to the pri­vate sec­tor un­der at­trac­tive but time-bound schemes, but pro­vided the con­cerned gov­ern­ment de­part­ments them­selves don’t throw span­ners in the works or op­er­ate in a Rip Van Win­kle’ time frame. Like­wise, with all the em­pha­sis be­ing laid upon cargo and ve­hi­cle trans­port, ex­cept for Ker­ala pas­sen­ger tran­sit has been largely ig­nored ev­ery­where. Thus, a three-pronged ap­proach for di­vid­ing river navigation into cargo, ve­hic­u­lar trans­fer and purely pas­sen­ger ser­vices should be adopted. Where barges, self-pow­ered or tugged would han­dle cargo, ve­hic­u­lar trans­fer is han­dled by RO-RO ser­vices and pure pas­sen­ger ser­vices com­prise of light­weight ves­sels like FRP com­pos­ite cata­ma­rans, which pro­vide max­i­mum safety along with op­er­a­tional econ­omy.

The In­dian gov­ern­ment’s re­cent thrust on re­viv­ing In­land wa­ter trans­port has mostly fo­cused on freight and cargo, and ex­cept for Ker­ala, no se­ri­ous ef­fort has been made any­where on mod­ernising pas­sen­ger trans­port

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