The Centre is working on developing a network of waterway projects spread over 4,000 kilometres in the North-East and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh to enhance connectivity to the region as part of its Act East policy of developing better economic and political relations with South-East Asia.
The seven states of India’s northeastern region are dependent on a narrow stretch of about 22-kilometre land in West Bengal’s Siliguri for connectivity to the rest of the country. Nepal and Bangladesh are located on either side of the corridor.
The shipping ministry made a presentation regarding the waterway projects to the Fifteenth Finance Commission, on January 2. It said the network was aimed to connect “heart of India” to the region’s “extreme end” to boost trade.
“We are working towards the decongestion of the highly congested Siliguri Corridor and establishing an alternate modal choice for cargo and passenger movement,” a shipping ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The India-Bangladesh Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), which was signed in 2015, allows Indian and Bangladeshi vessels to use identified waterways in the two countries.
The two countries had decided that the 309-kilometre Ashuganj-Zakiganj stretch of the Kushiyara River and 146-kilometre Sirajganj-Daikhowa that of the Jamuna will be developed for round the year navigation as part of PIWTT at a cost of Rs 300 crore.
The Sirajganj-Daikhowa stretch can facilitate connectivity between National Waterway-1 (the Ganga) and National Waterway-2 (the Brahmaputra) and enable movement of larger vessels from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to Assam’s Sadiya, via Bangladesh.
India is working to develop the National Waterway-1 as part of the World Bank-funded Rs 5,369 crore Jal Marg Vikas Project from Haldia in West Bengal to Varanasi.
Bangladesh and India also signed an agreement for passenger and cruise services. India will also soon be able to use Bangladesh’s busiest ports — Chittagong and Mongla — for cargo movement.
In Myanmar, India is working on Rs 904.04 crore Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project to provide an alternate route to the North-East. It will connect Myanmar’s Sittwe Port to the region. It is expected to contribute to North-East’s economic development by opening up the sea route to it. It, too, will reduce pressure on the Siliguri Corridor, the shipping ministry noted in its presentation.
“We are providing connectivity between Haldia and Kolkata by sea up to Sittwe (539 kilometres) through inland waterways terminal up to Paletwa (158 kilometres) and by road (121 kilometres) to the Indo-Myanmar Border to Mizoram. We have already completed phase 1, which involved sea dredging on Sittwe-Paletwa stretch of Kaladan river. The road construction along the border has also begun,” the official said.
India is also looking to establish inland waterway connectivity between India and Nepal as decided during the Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s visit to India in April 2018.