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Water transport potential in NE yet to be tapped

By R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, July 6 - The North East India has immense potential for development of inland water transport and according to an estimate, the region has around 1,800 kilometres of river routes which can be used by steamers and large country boats. However, since Independence, inland water transport was not given due importance by the government.

According to a report by the Ministry for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), the Northeast India has many large and small rivers providing facilities for water transport, especially in their plains sections. From the ancient period until roads were constructed, the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers were commonly used as the medium of transport. During the period of British rule the Brahmaputra and Barak-Surma rivers were used extensively for transport and trade between Northeast India and the port of Calcutta (now Kolkata).

With the growth of the tea industry these rivers became important carriers for development of trade and commerce. The East India Company started the water route along the Brahmaputra from Kolkata to Dibrugarh in 1844 and steamships were introduced by the Joint Steamer Company in 1847. At about the same time Silchar was linked with Kolkata along the Barak-Surma-Meghna navigation channel. However, with the partition of India in 1947, water transport received a serious blow as a foreign country was born between Northeast India and the port of Kolkata.

The inland water transport departments of both the State and Central governments have been trying to improve the water transport system in the region. The Brahmaputra now has several small river ports. In addition, there are more than thirty pairs of ferry ghats (crossing points) on the Brahmaputra, transporting both passengers and cargo. The Barak also has small ports at Karimganj, Badarpur, and Silchar and ferry services at several places across it, the report said.

The DoNER report revealed that in Arunachal Pradesh the rivers Lohit, Subansiri, Burhi Dihing, Noa Dihing and Tirap are used for navigation by small country boats in those stretches where there are no rapids. The rivers Dhaleshwari, Sonai, Tuilianpui, and Chimtuipui in Mizoram are also used for navigation with small country boats in convenient stretches. Similarly, in Manipur, the Manipur River, along with its three main tributaries, the Iril, Imphal, and Thoubal, is used for transporting small quantities of merchandise by country boats.

The largest expected cargo movements in the North Eastern�region came from the ambitious power projects being implemented by various private sector companies along with the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd (NHPC), North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. (NEEPCO), National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) on various tributaries of the Brahmaputra particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. These developments are expected to generate cargo movements of about 50-100 million metric tons over a period of 20 years. Accordingly, the infrastructure requirements for it will be enormous in size. IWT can play the most complementary role in catering to the needs of such large requirements. Other identified cargo movements include coal from Meghalaya, fly ash from Farakka to various destinations in the Northeast, limestone for cement plants, petroleum products from Numaligarh Refinery, bitumen from Haldia, and food grains from Kolkata to various destinations in the Northeast for the Food Corporation of India Ltd.

The river Brahmaputra is the lifeline of the region. It was declared as National Waterway-2 in 1988 for a distance of 891 km from Dhubri to Sadiya. Inland Waterways Authority of India maintains navigational channel of minimum 45 m width and 2.5 m depth is in NW-2 between Dhubri and Neamati, 2.0 m between Neamati and Dibrugarh and 1.5 m between Dibrugarh and Sadiya (presently the channel is maintained between Dibrugarh and Uriumghat instead of Dibrugarh and Sadiya due to the ongoing porcupine work by the Brahmaputra Board near Sadiya. Necessary aids for facilitating 24 hour navigation is maintained between Dhubri and Silghat while day navigation marks are provided in further upper sections of the river. Terminal facilities for loading and unloading of cargo is being maintained by IWAI at strategic locations like Dhubri, Jogighopa, Pandu, Silghat, Neamati and Dibrugarh. Pandu (Guwahati) is being developed as a multi modal transport hub which can serve the entire northeastern region. A permanent terminal at Dhubri is under construction with all facilities at an approximate cost of Rs. 46.68 cr. Dhubri is the first important terminal on the Brahmaputra. The existing temporary IWT terminal at Jogighopa is proposed to be upgraded to a bulk cargo handling terminal for products like Meghalaya coal, with rail connectivity up to the terminal, the report added.

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