Bombay Chambers take the lead in promoting Coastal Shipping and inland waterway transport

Dec 07, 2011, 2:12PM EST
Move to shift significant part of freight moving by road and rail on to coastal shipping and inland waterway transport

 For the second time in its entire impressive long history, Bombay Chambers of Commerce & Industry (BCC&I) has come in strong support of the maritime trade in India. This time it has embarked on a major initiative to promote coastal shipping and inland waterways transport and plans to go all out to prevail on the government and various related players to shift a significant percentage of the freight moving by road and railways on to this sector - which it terms as ‘domestic shipping’.

It was way back in 1873 that BCC&I in its first major initiative took upon itself to established Bombay port and managed it until it was formed into a port trust. Now it has again risen to the occasion to give a boost to coastal shipping and inland water transport as it will greatly help the Indian economy to grow.

A strategic paper was released today during its bi-annual conference on Ports & Shipping, which focused on the theme “Coastal Shipping & Inland Waterways: the Missing link in Maritime Development”. The paper highlights the tremendous scope of water transport and its impact on the Indian economy with the intention of promoting informed debate on the subject and provides inputs for pragmatic policy making by the government of India to develop this sector.

Michael Pinto the former Union secretary, Government of India declared during the inauguration of the conference, “We must leverage the 7,500 miles of the Indian coast and inland waterways and encourage domestic shipping. He regretted that despite the immense benefits inland and coastal transport offers the cargo moving by this mode was less than 1% of the total freight movement in the country.

S. N. Srikanth, Senior Partner of Hauer Associates made the shocking observation that people of the country preferred to treat the inland waterways as garbage bins. The country had over 250 operational ports and five national waterways. Yet road transport is the preferred choice despite the fact 130,000 people die every year in road accidents, is responsible for the emission of unhealthy greenhouse gases leading to respiratory disorders, highway congestion costing $ 2.9 billion in fuel wastage and loss of 4.2 million hours in time annually.  

The Strategic paper listed a number of hurdles in the way of popularizing domestic shipping. Among these included poor water depth at many of the private ports and those run by state governments. Besides the absence of night navigations facilities, lack of handling equipment at ports or inland terminals and poor awareness of the advantages were the reasons for poor share of domestic shipping.

BCC & I therefore has recommended that in order to bring about a significant shift to water transport a comprehensive policy on transport of domestic cargo by waterways be introduced.  This could include incentive by way of tax break be given to registered multimodal operators who divert cargo from road and offer it for shipment by domestic shipping. The incentive could be linked to the saving in costs.

The government could lead the way by diverting some its own cargo on to water transport.  Also the government should take the lead to develop at least one port in each littoral state for coastal shipping. These ports could be developed through Center – State – Private Partnership, with the Central government funding breakwaters and capital dredging, with the state government  concerned providing the waterfront area and the private sponsor responsible for other infrastructure and for development of the port on a Build – Operate – Transfer business model.

It was heartening to note that B. K. Chaturvedi, Member of the Planning Commission who was the chief guest at the conference during his address gave the assurance that in the next five year plan under preparation the Planning Commission will make recommendations for promoting coastal shipping and transport by inland waterways.


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