Water transport in India

Water transport in India
Posted on 23-08-2023

Water Transport: A Vital Strategy for Global Connectivity

Introduction Water transport is recognized as a pivotal method for efficiently moving goods and people across significant distances. Its cost-effectiveness and capacity to handle large and heavy items make it an essential mode of transportation, crucial for international trade and connectivity.

Types of Water Transport Water transportation encompasses various vessels, including boats, ships, barges, and more, operating across oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. It serves as a primary means for transferring commodities and individuals, contributing to global trade and economic growth.

Inland Waterways: Harnessing Domestic Routes Inland waterways consist of rivers, canals, backwaters, and streams within a country's borders. Despite their potential, they are often underutilized. In countries like India, these waterways offer a safe and practical means of transporting goods and easing the burden on roads and railways.

India's Inland Waterways Network India boasts an extensive inland waterways network, including rivers and canals, yet their potential remains untapped. The Inland Water Transport Wing works to enhance and manage these waterways, offering an alternative to congested land-based transportation.

Ocean Routes: Connecting Nations Globally Ocean routes are the backbone of international trade, facilitating the movement of goods between countries. Seaports act as vital entry and exit points, transforming the world into an interconnected market and boosting global commerce.

India's National Waterways India designates key rivers as National Waterways under the National Waterways Act. This designation aims to improve transportation infrastructure and enhance connectivity. These waterways include routes like:

  1. National Waterway 5: Linking Orissa to West Bengal through various water bodies.
  2. National Waterway 4: Connecting Kakinada to Pondicherry via canals and rivers.
  3. National Waterway 3: Stretching from Kollam to Kotta-Puram in Kerala.
  4. National Waterway 2: Covering a segment of the Brahmaputra River in Assam.
  5. National Waterway 1: Spanning from Allahabad (Prayagraj) to Haldia.

Seaports: Gateways to International Trade Seaports play a pivotal role in ocean transportation. India boasts numerous major and minor ports along its coastline, facilitating over 90% of trade volume and 70% of trade value. These ports handle various goods, including minerals, coal, oil, and agricultural products.

Water Transport's Impact on Connectivity and Growth Water transport remains a crucial strategy for connecting nations, facilitating international trade, and promoting economic growth. From the efficiency of inland waterways to the global significance of ocean routes, this mode of transportation has reshaped the world into an interconnected marketplace, fostering development and prosperity.

Inland Water Transport and Shipping in India: Opportunities, Challenges, and Initiatives

Before the era of railways, inland waterways were the primary mode of transportation. Waterways are cost-effective and ideal for moving heavy goods. Water transport is eco-friendly and fuel-efficient, with substantial employment potential. Although it faced competition from roads and railways due to speed, India aims to improve its water-based transport, which currently contributes 6% of freight.

Inland Water Transport in India: India possesses diverse inland waterways like rivers, canals, and backwaters, covering over 5,000 km. These offer competitive transportation with lower costs than rail and road. The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was established in 1986 to oversee their development. Key initiatives include the Jal Marg Vikas Project, Arth Ganga, Arth Brahmaputra, and the Inland Vessels Bill.

Advantages of Inland Waterways: Efficient waterway networks could revolutionize logistics in India, reducing road congestion and land acquisition issues. Waterways are economically viable, lowering goods' point-to-point costs. Studies show water transport is fuel-efficient compared to road and rail.

Challenges Related to Inland Waterways: Uniform draft throughout the year is challenging due to seasonal rivers. Capital and maintenance dredging, riverbed silting, and water diversion pose implementation hurdles. Demand must grow to make waterways economically sustainable.

Measures Taken: Efforts like the Indo-Myanmar and Indo-Bangladesh protocols promote connectivity. Integrating waterways with Dedicated Freight Corridors and the Sagarmala Project further enhances transportation efficiency.

Actions Needed: Micro-level studies are required for each unique river system. Strategy coordination between national and non-declared waterways, as well as road and rail networks, is crucial. Collaborating with local governments is essential for successful implementation.


India's maritime trade has a rich history. Shipping remains vital for trade, with 90% of volume (77% value) transported by sea. India boasts a significant merchant fleet. Coastal shipping offers economic growth opportunities.

Coastal Shipping: India's coastline and ports support coastal shipping's potential, reducing logistics costs. European experiences demonstrate cost-effectiveness compared to road and rail. Coastal shipping mainly handles petroleum, coal, and iron ore.

Ports in India: India has 13 major and 200 medium/small ports. Major ports handle 90% of foreign trade, promoting trade and economic growth.

Challenges Faced by Shipping Industry in India: Institutional, infrastructural, and financial challenges hinder growth. Vessel sizes and taxation issues also impact the industry.

Measures Taken: Subsidies for shipping companies in global tenders and the Sagarmala Project aim to address challenges and enhance trade efficiency.

India's inland water transport and shipping sectors offer immense potential. With strategic initiatives and proper implementation, India can harness its extensive coastline and waterways to boost trade, reduce transport costs, and drive economic growth.

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