Un­lock­ing in­land wa­ter­ways

Un­lock­ing the po­ten­tial in in­land wa­ter­ways of Nepal can bring a paradigm shift to the exim lo­gis­tics of the coun­try

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Un­lock­ing the po­ten­tial in in­land wa­ter­ways of Nepal can bring a paradigm shift to the exim lo­gis­tics of the coun­try.

South Asia Watch on Trade, Eco­nom­ics and En­vi­ron­ment (SAWTEE) is un­der­tak­ing di­ag­nos­tic study to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion of wa­ter trans­port in

Nepal un­der Ex­pand­ing Trad­able Benefits of Trans-bound­ary Wa­ter: Pro­mot­ing Nav­i­ga­tional Us­age of In­land Wa­ter­ways in Ganga and Brahma­pu­tra Basins (IW) Pro­ject.

The pro­ject aims to con­trib­ute to up­grad­ing poli­cies and laws gov­ern­ing in­land wa­ter­ways in the BBIN re­gion for im­prov­ing trans­port con­nec­tiv­ity and strength­en­ing liveli­hood of those di­rectly con­nected to wa­ter­ways. Un­der the pro­ject, this di­ag­nos­tic study in­cludes in­sti­tu­tional anal­y­sis on the man­age­ment of poli­cies and laws with re­spect to the man­age­ment of in­land wa­ter­ways in Nepal.


It is ev­i­dent that Nepal has not been able to ex­ploit this po­ten­tial fully due to lack of ad­e­quate port in­fra­struc­ture and main­te­nance, and the ab­sence of poli­cies and leg­is­la­tions to en­sure safe and prof­itable nav­i­ga­ble con­di­tions. This re­search aims to as­sess the state of in­sti­tu­tions – le­gal and gov­ern­men­tal – which gov­ern in­land wa­ter­ways for po­ten­tial trans-bound­ary con­nec­tiv­ity. The ob­jec­tive is also to eval­u­ate how the ex­ist­ing wa­ter trans­port ser­vices are in­ter­con­nected with liveli­hoods of the lo­cals and in what ways would the fu­ture cross bor­der in­land wa­ter­ways expansion im­pact their lives. This pro­ject will also help in iden­ti­fy­ing gaps in poli­cies and in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity pre­vail­ing in the ex­ist­ing sys­tem once Nepal de­cides to adapt wa­ter­ways as an al­ter­nate mode of trans­port.


Nepal has more than 6000 rivers with cu­mu­la­tive length of 45,000 km which can be used to be con­nected to in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. But lack of in­sti­tu­tional and phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture has left in­land nav­i­ga­tion as an un­tapped sec­tor. All rivers in Nepal drain into Ganges and are a part of Ganges River Basin (GRB). Con­nect­ing Nepal’s wa­ter­ways to In­dian wa­ter­ways can open a new al­ter­na­tive trade route. In ad­di­tion, via wa­ter­ways Nepal could make use of Bangladesh’s ports as well.

The BBIN coun­tries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, In­dia and Nepal) have po­ten­tial to get con­nected through wa­ter for swifter and cheaper trade move­ment. Rivers in Nepal are all trib­u­taries of the Ganges while, on the east, rivers from Bhutan meet Brahma­pu­tra and both these mighty rivers get to the Bay of Ben­gal via Bangladesh. Such con­flu­ence make pos­si­bil­ity of the trans­port con­nec­tiv­ity for freight through

wa­ter a re­al­ity pro­vided some river en­gi­neer­ing is done.

MOPIT had com­mis­sioned a fea­si­bil­ity study for wa­ter trans­port in the Koshi, Gan­daki and Bheri River basins in 2012. The study con­cluded that most of the routes they ap­praised were suit­able for op­er­at­ing ves­sels for touris­tic pur­poses. The river flow pat­tern makes nav­i­ga­tion on mo­tored boats dif­fi­cult. The re­port con­cludes that com­mer­cial wa­ter trans­port for mass pas­sen­gers and goods move­ment is not rec­om­mended in the present con­di­tion; how­ever, recre­ational wa­ter trans­port could be de­vel­oped.

The Koshi River

The river is also known as Sap­takoshi once it hits the plains in Nepal in Chatara at eastern Nepal. Of the to­tal 720 km length of the Koshi, 513 km lies in Nepal. The river en­ters In­dia at Bhim­na­gar –about 50 km from Chatara – and fi­nally reached the Ganges River near Kursela. At present, wa­ter trans­port on the Koshi River is lim­ited to boats used for river cross­ing at cer­tain places. These boats are sole medium of trans­porta­tion that con­nects the peo­ple of so­called Sri Lanka Tappu with other habi­ta­tion. The boat cross­ing ser­vices are op­er­ated at two points with about five kilo­me­tres dis­tance, all year long. Although the lack of river nav­i­ga­tion has made peo­ple highly de­pen­dent on the un­re­li­able road trans­port, fish­er­men take it on a pos­i­tive note as they are afraid that mo­torised ves­sels would scare off the fish and af­fect their liveli­hood. As of now, com­mer­cial nav­i­ga­tion is non-ex­is­tent in the Koshi River, but it may be pos­si­ble af­ter the con­struc­tion of pro­posed Sap­takoshi High Dam.

The Gan­daki River

The re­gion be­tween Dhaula­giri and Go­sain­sthan is drained by the Gan­daki river sys­tem. The river basin has a to­tal area of 34,960 sq km of which 90 per cent lies in Nepal. At present, the rivers in Gan­dak trib­u­taries do not boast any in­land wa­ter­ways. Be­sides a steamer ser­vice on the reser­voir created by the con­struc­tion of dam for Kali Gan­daki and a hy­dro­elec­tric pro­ject in Sy­nagja, there is no mech­a­nized nav­i­ga­tion ser­vice avail­able. The Gan­dak

Basin also does not have proper in­land water­way route. Prospects of de­vel­op­ing nav­i­ga­ble wa­ter­ways are am­ple once the rivers –Tr­ishuli and Kali Gan­daki con­verge into the Narayani River near Devghat, and flows on the flat­ter sur­face. The river could have emerged as an al­ter­nate route to travel from Narayang­hat to Triveni –bor­der to In­dia. How­ever, such un­der­tak­ing are not pos­si­ble due to the Chit­wan Na­tional Park which does not al­low boats cit­ing ad­verse im­pact on the habi­ta­tion.

In the Koshi basin, river trans­port could make reach­ing up­per hilly re­gions via wa­ter pos­si­ble. If sim­i­lar ser­vice could be restarted or ex­tended to in­clude freight move­ment, it could re­flect on the price of com­modi­ties. In sim­i­lar vein, hav­ing ro­bust wa­ter trans­port in the Narayani River would mean more em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the peo­ple in the area.

Trade through wa­ter­ways

Get­ting di­rect ac­cess to sea for Nepal cargo move­ment would trans­late into lower trad­ing cost. Due to its ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage and overde­pen­dence on In­dia’s con­gested Kolkata and Hal­dia Ports as tran­sit gate­way, Nepal suf­fer from high trad­ing cost. As IWT in South Asia is re­ceiv­ing grow­ing at­ten­tion from the gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies alike, in­land nav­i­ga­tion could emerge as a vi­able op­tion for Nepal. Nav­i­ga­tion has been taken up as an im­por­tant part of the in­te­grated river man­age­ment pro­grammes. As In­dia is up­grad­ing its river ports and ter­mi­nals at Patna and Varanasi to trans­port Nepal bound cargo, de­vel­op­ing river con­nec­tiv­ity would pro­vide Nepal a much needed al­ter­na­tive trade route. Sim­i­larly, through the Ganges River, Nepal could ac­cess the Hal­dia, Chit­tagong and Mangla Ports.


• Un­der­take fea­si­bil­ity study of the rivers to fa­cil­i­tate multi-modal trans­port ser­vices.

• Up­grade ex­ist­ing tra­di­tional boats. • Nepal needs to set up a body for de­vel­op­ing wa­ter­ways.

• A com­pre­hen­sive Act needs to be framed to fa­cil­i­tate nav­i­ga­tion. • In­cen­tives should be of­fered to in­crease pri­vate sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion.

• Trans-bound­ary in­land wa­ter­ways con­nec­tiv­ity should be es­tab­lished.

by Ra­jan Sharma Im­me­di­ate Past Pres­i­dent NEFFA

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