Inland Water Transport (IWT) is an economic, fuel-efficient, environment friendly and employment oriented mode of transport. Today, it is recognised all over the world for its inherent advantage of being the cheapest mode of transport for bulk haulage over long distance between places situated along the waterfront. Its energy efficiency, low pollution and potential for employment generation are universally accepted.
The Government of India has thus set up Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), a statutory body under Ministry of Shipping in 1986 with the responsibility of regulation and development of National Waterways in the country for shipping and navigation.
The following inland waterways in the country have so far been declared as National Waterways.
Allahabad-Haldia stretch (1620 km) of the Ganga- Bhagirathi- Hooghly river system as National Waterway No-1;
Sadiya-Dhubri stretch (891 km) of Brahmaputra river as National Waterway No-2;
Kollam-Kottappuram stretch of West Coast Canal along with Champakara canal and Udyogmandal canal (205 km) as National Waterway No-3;
Kakinada-Puducherry stretch of Canals and the Kaluvelly Tank, Bhadrachalam-Rajahmundry stretch of river Godavari and Wazirabad- Vijayawada stretch of river Krishna (1078 km) as National Waterway-4; and
Talcher-Dhamra stretch of rivers, Geonkhali-Charbatia stretch of East Coast Canal, Charbatia-Dhamra stretch of Matai river and Mahanadi Delta rivers (588 km) as National Waterway-5
IWAI is taking up the development of the first three National Waterways in a phased manner with a view to provide it as an alternative mode of transport. Action has already been initiated to develop commercially viable stretches of NW-4 and NW-5 under Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode with the financial assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB)/ Viability Gap Funding (VGF).
Besides, IWAI is developing and maintaining the Indian side of Sunderbans waterways under the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol for Transit and Trade under which the inland vessels of one country can transit through the specified routes of the other country.
Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system from Allahabad to Haldia was declared as National Waterway No.1 vide National Waterway (Allahabad-Haldia stretch of the Ganga Bhagirathi- Hooghly river) Act 1982 (49 of 1982). It became operative from 27th Oct 1986 after the formation of the IWAI. The waterway extends from Haldia to Allahabad for a distance of 1620 kms.
The Hooghly river portion of the waterway from Haldia to Nabadwip is tidal.Sea going vessels navigate up to Calcutta (140 kms) and the fairway up to Calcutta is maintained by the Calcutta Port Trust. From Calcutta up to Tribeni there is no restrictions for navigation by inland vessels of a loaded draft up to 4m. From Nabadwip to Jangipur the waterway is formed by Bhagirathi river. Bhagirathi river is a regulated river because of the Barrages at Farakka and Jangipur.With the controlled discharge from the Farakka Barrage and limited river conservancy work a navigable depth of 2m is maintained in this route throughout the year.
From Farakka upstream the navigable route is through the main Ganga river. The Feeder Canal and the navigation lock at Farakka become the link between the Bhagirathi and main Ganga upstream Farakka Barrage. The large variation in discharge along with unstable morphological condition of bank and bed, heavy sediment load,continuous braiding and meandering make development of navigational channel acomplex task.
NW-1 stretch is defined as Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system from Allahabad to Haldia (1620km).This waterway is declared as National Waterway in 1986.NW-1 is passing through UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.Length of Haldia–Farakka waterway is 560Km, of Farakka–Patna is 460Km and of Patna–Allahabad is 600 km. Figure:1 shows the index map of National Waterway–1.
Brahmaputra from Dhubri to Sadiyawas declared as National Waterway no. 2 vide National Waterway (Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river) Act 1988 ( 40 of 1988 ).From Dhubri to Sadiya, the waterway extends for a distance of 891Km. The river Brahmaputra flows downthe centre of Assam Valley.It receives a number of tributaries like Subansiri,Jia Bharali, Dihing, Burhi Dihing, Disang, Dhansiri and Kopili. The Brahmaputra along with its continuous water routes leading up to the ports of Calcutta and Haldia is a very important traditional IWT route. Under an agreement with the Govt. of Bangladesh, the CIWTC an other Indian vessel operators are plying their carg0 vessels between Assam and Calcutta region making use of IWT transit facilities through Bangladesh.
Important river stations/commercial centers along the river bank in NW-2 are Dhubri, Jogighopa, Pandu/Guwahati, Tezpur, Neamati, Dibrugarh, Sadiya and Saikhowa.Pandu/Guwahati is the most important river station on NW-2 and the stretch downstream of Pandu up to Bangladesh Border (260 kms) is the stretch where IWT operation is presently most active.
The West Coast Canal from Kottapuram to Kollam was declared as National Waterway No.3 vide National Waterway (Kollam-Kottapuram stretch of West Coast Canal and Champakara and Udyogmandal Canals) Act 1992 ( 33-F of 1992 ) and notified on 1st Feb. 1993. From Kottapuram to Kollam including Champakara and Udyogmandal canals has a navigable length of 205 kms.
This waterway comprises of natural lakes, back-waters, river sections and man-made canal sections. The Champakara and Udyogmandal canals link industrial centers of Ambalamugal and Udyogmandal with the Kochi port. On the main West Coast Canal between Kollam and Kottapuram, the Kochi Edapallikota (120 kms) stretch was opened for cargo movement during November 1994 consequent to improvement works carried out by IWAI.
Kakinada-Puducherry canal stretch (767km) along with Godavari River stretch (171km) between (Bhadrachalam and Rajamundry) and Krishna River stretch(157km) between (Wazirabad and Vijayawada) is termed as NW-4.Total length of NW-4 is 1095 km. A network of irrigation cum navigation canal linking Chennai and Ennore Ports in Tamil Nadu with the Kakinada Port,and Machlipatnam Ports in Andhra Pradesh runs through a distance of 618 kms. The Kakinada canal and Eluru canal and Commamur canal which are irrigation cum navigation canal also interlink the two major river systems of Godavari and Krishna. The Buckingham canal which interlinks the Commamur canal with Chennai port runs through a distance of 315 Km is tidal.
In view of the port hinterland connection, interstate and inter city traffic potential and the historic data on IWT movement, development of this waterway into an efficient IWT system is envisaged during the 9th Five Year Plan. Further integrated canal also connect the Chennai city with the Mercunam through the south Buckingham canal and Cooum river runs through a distance of 103 kms
The East Coast Canal stretch along with Brahmani and Mahanadi delta river system is defined as NW-5. It includes the canal stretch between Geonkhali and Charbatia (217 km), part of Matai River between Charbatia and Dhamra (40 km), part of Brahmani, Kharsua and Dhamra river system between Talcher and Dhamra (265 km) and Mahanadi delta river system between Mangalgadi and Paradeep (101 km). Total length of NW-5 is 623 km.
In accordance with Section 14(2)(c) of the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985 (82 of 1985), IWAI has published River Navigational charts for the three National Waterways NW-1, NW-2 and NW-3, which are available. The maps of NW-4 and NW-5 will be available after getting permission from Survey of India.
Declaration of Barak river from Bhanga to Lakhipur(121 km) in the State of Assam as National Waterway is under consideration of Govt.
River Barak originates from Patkari range of Manipur at an elevation of 2440 mts. The river flows through Manipur, Manipur-Mizoram and Manipur-Assam border and then along Assam and then finally enters into Bangladesh. Out of the total length of 900 kms of the river, 564 kms is in the Indian territory. The IWT route through Bangladesh is open for navigation under the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol which facilitates movement of IWT vessels up to Karimganj and Silchar.Hydrographic surveys carried out in the river route have shown feasibility of extension of this river route up to Lakhipur. Since this IWT route serves a vital transportation linkage to the North Eastern states, it is proposed to develop the river and also to improve the navigational facilities in the Protocol route leading to Karimganj during the 9th Five Year Plan.