Mains Daily Question
Jan. 27, 2021

  1. The National Waterways Act, 2016 was enacted to realize the potential of inland water as a highly economical mode of transport. Discuss the advantages of inland water transport, and mention the challenges in development of such waterways for transport.



  • Introduce about waterways and the need for enactment of waterways act.

  • Mention the benefits of inland waterways and various challenges in their development.

  • Finally conclude by giving a way forward.

Model Answer

India is a land of rivers. It has a coastline of 7500 km long of nearly 14,500 km of navigable waterways. This offers enormous opportunity to build a cheaper and greener form of transportation. Yet out of 14,500 km of navigable waterways, India at present utilizes only 2000 km. Because of this there is just a relatively small amount of trade passing across these rivers and coastlines. Coastal shipping constitutes just 6 % and inland water transportation accounts for only 0.4 % of trade. In China, 47% of passenger and goods traffic is through the sea, in Korea and Japan, 43-44%, and in Europe, more than 40%. In India, it is just 3.3 %, of which inland rivers account for only 0.3 %.

In order to capture the unused potential, India enacted the National Waterways Act, 2016 to develop 106 inland waterways as national waterways in addition to 5 existing national waterways. India is looking for an Integrated Approach for developing a National Waterways grid in which different National Waterways will be interconnected. Further, IWT will be integrated with major railway stations and markets for smooth inter-modal transport. Major industrial centres for cement, steel, coal etc will be integrated with IWT.

Advantages Associated With Water Transport:

  • Fuel efficient: Inland transport consumes less fuel as compared to rail or roadways. According to World Bank, 1 liter of fuel moves 105 ton-Km by inland waterways but only 85 ton-Km by rail and 24 ton-Km by road.

  • Cost effective: Cost of IWT is nearly 0.25 Rs/km, of rail is 1.5 Rs/km while that of road transport is 2.5 Rs/km.

  • Environment friendly: CO2 emissions during inland transport are substantially lower than rail or road transport. Thus, it will help India to meet INDC target declared during Paris climate conference.

  • Export Promotion: Lower factor costs will make our exports more competitive.

  • Decongestion: It will decongest our choked highways and overburdened railways. There will be fewer accidents also.

  • High population density areas of UP, Bihar, West Bengal and coastal areas will be served for passenger and freight transport.

  • It will enhance industrial growth and tourism along the waterways.

  • Unlike development of highways and railways, no major land acquisition is required.

Challenges in Development of Waterways as well

  • Most peninsular rivers are seasonal in nature. The water flow in lean season decreases so much that navigation is difficult. Further, Himalayan rivers get excessive water discharge during monsoon causing floods and hampering transport.

  • Problem of siltation because of the high amount of load that Himalayan rivers bring.

  • Southern rivers have rocky terrains which hinders smooth navigation.

  • Waterways require intensive capital and maintenance dredging, which could be resisted by the local community on environmental grounds, including fears of displacement, thus posing challenges to implementation.

  • Development of waterways would incur huge cost.

The National Waterways law is a farsighted and much-needed initiative. The challenges are being overcome gradually with Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) putting in place a structured management and monitoring system. Out of the 111 National Waterways declared under the Act, 13 are operational for shipping and navigation and cargo/passenger vessels are moving on them. 


Subjects : Geography
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