India with a extensive network of rivers, canals, lakes has approximately 14500 km of navigable waterways. Along these Major Indian waterways are constructed – NW1: Allahabad–Haldia (Ganges–Bhagirathi–Hooghly river); NW2: Sadiya–Dhubri (River Brahmaputra); NW3: Kollam-Kozhikode (West coast canal); NW4: Kakinada–Pondicherry (River Krishna, R. Godavari). But at present Inland Waterway Transport forms a very diminutive part of total transport system, for the following problems faced by it:
- Increased siltation: Reduced navigability due to siltation, as in the Bhagirathi-Hooghly and in the Buckingham Canal.
- Reduced waterflow: Reduced flow due to diversion of water for irrigation, for instance, in the Ganga which makes it difficult even for steamers to ply.
- Geographical constraints: There are problems in smooth navigation because of waterfalls and cataracts, as in Narmada and Tapti.
- Inadequate depth: Lack of inadequate depth of waterways for commercial movement of cargo is a major concern.Also quality of water flow is becoming poorer progressively.
- Inadequateair draft:Multiple bridges with low vertical clearanceobstructs the passage of bigger vessels. Eg: It is faced in NW3.
- Shortage of IWT vessels: Due toits capital incentive nature India lacks in vessel building
- Lack of terminals:It inhibits door-door connectivity to end users.
- Lack of navigation infrastructure: Rudimentary infrastructure coupled with non-availability of water round the year is an impediment for operation of waterways.
- Shortage of MRO facilities: There is severe shortage of Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul facilities for inland water transport vessels.
- There is lack of modal integration of and detailed mapping of waterways and industrial clusters and also lack of integration of hinterland coastal shipping with international maritime traffic.
- Lack of level playing policy(waterways were not on the national horizon for planning and connectivity for long time) among different modes of transport.
- Lack of uniformity in legal and administrative issues as inland waterways move through more than one state.
- Inter-linking of rivers is a major issue, which is yet to materialize.
- Under investment by the government.
- Private sector participation in MRO is dismal.
- Construction of dams/barrage to increase depth of navigation faces challenges of economic viability.
- Employment potential:As per National Transport development policy committee every Rs 1 lac investment would generate 33.6 person year sof employment.
- Environmentally friendly:IWTcaonsumes minimal energy compared to other modes.
- Reduced freight costs:As its is the cheapest most of transport for cargo. Recently govt is also experimenting with innovations that would allow these barges to be powered with LNG, thus reducing freight cost plus using a cleaner fuel.
- Tourism:IWT could be a great revenue booster for its promising tourism potention.
- Linkage to NE:International protocols provide direct linkage of Haldia and Kolkota ports with land locked NE.
Some of the important sources of waterways, rivers, canals in India are – River Ganga, River Brahmaputra, Backwaters of Kerala, Goa waterways, Mumbai waterways, River Tapi etc. They hold a huge promise. Recently under Sagarmala initiative govt has also started encouraging steps like it has sanctioned the Capital Dredging Project of Ro Pax Ferry Services between Gogha&Dahej to reduce the motorable distance. All this probably help in actualizing the potential of IWT.