By: Shripad Dharmadhikari and Jinda Sandbhor
Suggested waterways in India

The National Waterway Act was passed by the Parliament on March 2016. In this Act, 111 rivers have been declared as National Waterways. The complete rights regarding the rivers are given to the State Government in Constitution. But when the river is declared as national waterway by the Parliament, the rights of waterways are transferred to the Central Government. By the aforesaid law, the rights have been snatched from the State Government and given to the Central Government for the 111 rivers. The motive behind waterways is to take advantage of the economic savings in cargo handling. However, we see the following problems in the policy of transportation over the rivers:

Dredging for capital and maintenance: In many places in river, the depth and width is less. Dredging is required to be done at these places. During the dredging, silt, stones, etc. are removed from the bed of the river due to which all the water of the river becomes dirty. The fishes start to migrate because of which the fishermen suffer huge losses. Also, the environment of aquatic life like turtle and dolphin is disturbed. The sunlight is not able to reach the aquatic vegetation and the process of photosynthesis cannot be done. Nachiket Kelkar, a specialist studying dolphins in the lower areas of the Ganga, says:

"Intensive dredging activity produces extremely noise and instability, which has very harmful effects on aquatic biology, especially the national water body of India - Gangai River Dolphin (Platinista Gangetica)". This endangered dolphin fish found in the Ganges River is a unique mammal that finds its way from ultrasonic frequency. On the basis of research, we estimate that the scale on which the proposal for dredging for waterways is proposed in the proposed bill, the life of this species of national importance will be even more threatened." (see report 1 below)

Dredging in rivers and sea is done like this
  • Crimping river into small stream: The spread out water of the river is collected inside a small channel by dredging so that the depth of water in the channel get increased and ships and boats can move easily. Aquatic organisms lay eggs in the spread out shallow water of the river. Thus, converting the river into one stream directly affects these aquatic lives.
  • Construction of Ghats and river ports: To build inland waterways, the harbour and hub will be built on the banks of the rivers and creeks. For this construction, large-scale of trees and mangrove forests nearby will be cut. According to the case study of Dharmtar seaport in Maharashtra, "For construction of a jetty located on the path of National Waterway-10, the Mangrove Forest Strip on the coast has deforested.” (See report 2 below)
Pollution increases in construction of Ghats and seaports in rivers
  • Construction of Barrages: In order to maintain the necessary depth in the river, barrages will also be made at some places. In the process the banks of the river are inundated and farming in that area gets destroyed. The silt in the river also gets trapped leading to more floods. Thus, in 2016, the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said that "due to the siltation at Farakka barrage, such flood water had come inside lower parts of Bihar."
Nitish Kumar meets Prime Minister for siltation issue
  • Leakage of lubricants: Diesel, oils and lubricants leak out of ships while running in waterways. In the Ganga Waterway (NW-1), LPG has been proposed to be used as a fuel for ships. This is a welcome move but the problem of lubricants coming out of boats will not end. 
Oil and lubricants leakage from ships and boats
  • Global experience: In China, US and Europe, about 8.7, 8.3 and 7 percent freight is carried by the waterways. In comparison only 0.5 percent is carried on water In India. Therefore, the Indian Government has made the idea of ​​expansion of waterways. But we are forgetting that there is fundamental difference between the rivers of India and other countries. Most of the water in India's rivers flows in the four months of monsoon, whereas water in the rivers of Europe and America comes from natural water sources and flows throughout the year. Due to variation of water level in India, there is less water in the river in India for eight months in a year due to which we have to undertake dredging leading to both high cost and huge environmental damage. The second difference is, in our country there is a deep cultural role of rivers. We worship Kaveri, Krishna, Narmada and Ganga and take bath in them. By making waterways in India, the resulting noise and pollution will lead to a negative impact on Indian culture. Third, in Mississippi Waterway, it is reported that the Government collects taxes on road transport, but not on waterway transport. Actually water transport is more expensive, but it becomes “profitable” for the transport companies due to higher taxes on road transport. Transporting through waterway is more expensive than road transport. But on Hence, due to this difference of tax the waterway becomes beneficial. 

According to a study by the US Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, 70% of the cost of maintenance of roads is collected from taxes paid by road vehicles. The rail companies bear full expenditure to maintain the railway lines.

The Mississippi Waterway report states that:

In 2012, the shippers and barge companies contributed a paltry 10 percent toward the cost of the Inland Waterways Navigation System- just $80 million of the $800 million needed to keep the system running each year. Few other American businesses receive such a generous tax payer subsidy of their expanses.

Other U.S. transportation sectors contribute much more toward infrastructure costs. For example, 70% of the cost to maintain roads and highways is paid through taxes on fuel and truck parts. The cost to maintain commercial freight lines is paid in full by railroad companies and receives no direct taxpayer support. It is time to level the playing fields and let markets function more efficiently. ” (report IATP, annexure- 24) (See report 3 below)

However, the shippers and barge companies contributed a paltry 10 percent toward the cost of the Inland Waterways Navigation System. It is clear that waterway in the US is profitable not due to its economic viability but due to the subsidy given by the Government. In order to correctly calculate the economic benefits from waterway in India, it is necessary to assess the taxes collected from the road and rail transport.


The construction of waterways in India will have serious impact on the environment and livelihood of the communities. The so-called economic benefits too may actually be a liability. We believe that the construction of waterways should be stopped immediately. First, a detailed analysis of the cost and effectiveness of these waterways should be done with full participation of people and civil organizations. Only then, the final decision about waterways should be taken.



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