The Shipping Ministry has mooted a proposal to utilize part of the fuel cess collected for building national highways for expansion of National Waterways as well. Speaking at the Infrastructure Session of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Convention in Mumbai on Monday, Union Minister for Shipping, Road Transport & Highways, Nitin Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal seeking allocation of 5% of the Central Road Fund for the development of Inland Waterways. “My Ministry has prepared the proposal, but the final decision will be taken by the Ministry of Finance. I am pursuing the matter” Mr. Gadkari added.
Central Road Fund is a non-lapsable fund created under the Central Road Fund Act 2000 out of a cess imposed on petrol and high-speed diesel. The funds are meant to be used to develop and maintain national highways, state roads and railway over and under bridges. The move to seek a pie in the CRF follows government’s ambitious plan to tap India’s vast network of rivers and canals stretching 14,500 km for moving goods.
Gadkari said “It is far cheaper to transport goods by water as compared to road or rail. “Currently cargo movement along the five existing national waterways is paltry 3% of all cargo movement in India. We want to raise the share of waterways in overall cargo movements to 15%” he said.
Earlier last week, the Shipping Minister had flagged off a cargo vessel carrying 200 Maruti cars from Varanasi to Kolkata as part of a pilot run. The Government has commissioned the Jal Marg Vikas project with the technical and financial support of the World Bank to augment the capacity of River Ganga from Varanasi to Haldia. The Rs 4,200 crore project, when completed in six years, will facilitate movement of up to 2,000-tonne vessels.
Under the National Waterways Act 2016, 111 inland waterways have been declared as National Waterways. Out of these, Allahabad-Haldia Ganga Waterway (NW1), Brahmaputra (NW2), West Coast Canal in Kerala (NW3), Mandovi river in Goa (NW 68), Sundarbans Waterway in West Bengal (NW97) and Zuari River (NW 111) are presently operational. Six more waterways are likely to be commissioned during this financial year.