Logistics costs in India are estimated to account for as much as 18 percent of the country’s GDP.
The Government of India is now reviving the Ganga watercourse – known as National Waterway 1 or NW1- to ferry cargo from the eastern seaport of Haldia to Varanasi, some 1,360 km inland.
The waterway has the potential to emerge as the leading logistics artery for northern India.
The waterway’s stretch between Kolkata and Delhi passes through one of India’s most densely populated areas.
A sizeable forty percent of all India’s traded goods either originate from this resource-rich region or are destined for its teeming markets.
While the region is estimated to generate about 370 million tonnes of freight annually, only a tiny fraction of this – about 5 million tonnes – currently travels by water.
Currently, cargo from the Gangetic states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh takes circuitous land routes to reach the sea ports of Mumbai in Maharashtra and Kandla in Gujarat, rather than going to the much-closer port at Kolkata.
The development of NW1 will help these states direct some of their freight to the Kolkata-Haldia complex, making the movement of freight more reliable and reducing logistics costs significantly.
The World Bank is financing the development of the Ganga waterway with a loan of $ 375 million.
The Capacity Augmentation of National Waterway 1 Project will help put in place the infrastructure and services needed to ensure that NW1 emerges as an efficient transport artery in this important economic region.
Once operational, the waterway will form part of the larger multi-modal transport network being planned along the river.
It will link up with the Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, as well as with the area’s existing network of highways.
This web of water, road and rail arteries will help the region’s industries and manufacturing units switch seamlessly between different modes of transport as they send their goods to markets in India and abroad.
Farmers in the agriculturally-rich Gangetic plain will also benefit, as the waterway opens up markets further afield.
Setting up Navigational Infrastructure
Since the absence of essential infrastructure such as cargo terminals and jetties has been one of the reasons for the slow development of water transport in the region.
The Project will help establish six multi-modal freight terminals – at Varanasi, Ghazipur, Kalughat, Sahibgunj, Triveni and Haldia.
In addition, five new Roll On-Roll Off (RO-RO) crossings at different locations will help trucks and other vehicles transfer from road to river and vice versa.
The Project will also help set up a vessel repair and maintenance facility at Doriganj.
In addition, the Project will support the modernization of the ageing Farakka lock, built some 40 years ago.
Furthermore, the Project will help set up a state-of-the-art River Information System (RIS).
A 45 metre-wide channel has been earmarked in the river’s deepest part, and the Least Available Depths (LAD) needed for navigation has been determined keeping in mind the need to reduce dredging.
These measures will reduce the need for dredging to just 1.5 percent of the river’s annual silt load of 10-11 million cubic metres.
Where large shoals and islands exist, temporary structures made of natural materials such as bamboo will be erected to channelize the water flow.
These temporary structures – or ‘bandals’ as they are known – will be especially erected near aquatic sanctuaries to protect the Ganga’s diverse fauna.
Contracts will also be tailored to reduce the need for dredging.