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Guwahati: The Inland Water Transport Assam is providing numerous services to the public be it for ferry and cargo services. In an exclusive interview to Business Northeast’s Priyanka Sharma, the Director of IWT Assam, Mohammed Hanif Noorani spoke extensively on the potential of inland water transport in Assam. He spoke of new projects, international collaborations and upcoming plans of the department by early 2024. Here are some excerpts.
BNE: What type of services is the department undertaking?
Director: Inland Water Transport department is quite an old department. It was established way back in 1958. Its headquarters is in Shillong. Thereafter, in 1963 it was shifted to Guwahati. Over the years IWT has provided numerous services for the welfare of the state. As of now there are 15 national waterways which has been declared as national waterways by Government of India. 15 of them are located in Assam. Besides providing ferry services we also have provision for cargo transportation. There is huge potential of development of tourism along the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. There is a huge potential for business in the coming years taking the strategic location and male waterways, that is, Brahmaputra, along with all its tributaries.
BNE: Please tell us about the new World Bank funded project?
Director: Looking at the potential of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries as developing an infrastructure, particularly, in the waterways or in fact in any other system, huge funding is required. So the Government of Assam has taken a decision of improving the overall waterways system and overall infrastructure in the water transport sector. Thereby it had sought for funding from the World Bank. Accordingly, World Bank going through the preliminary project reports and thereafter numerous field visits and detailed project consented to finance this project. The project is around 770 crores which is being funded by World Bank at the ratio of 80:20 where 80 percent is World Bank share and 20 percent is state funding. The Project started at 2020-2021 and it is upto 2024. Initially, due to Covid situation it was slow in implementation. Now again it has picked up. We have nearly achieved various financial commitments that is needed to be met for completion of the project. Now the project is on track. We expect it to be over by 2024.
BNE: Looking at the success story of MV Ganga Villas, do you think such services will be popular in Assam given its high prices?
Director: MV Ganga Villas was a showcase project. It was one of the longest riverine routes, it had the longest time schedule. For a general public people may not have the time or the resources to invest in such a long tourism destination. For a general public it is always a day or two programme. But to make the world aware (not only about our state) about the potential of the river that it can be easily navigated right from its source via travelling the entire course of Ganga then through Kolkata, then entering Assam again then travelling all the way to Sadia the very route is possible to be traversed in such a huge cruise like Ganga Villas has exposed to the world the potential of the river. All the private players who are in this line of vessel transportation, cargo transportation has seen that such a route is possible. The potentiality has been showcased to the world. It was a very successful programme. The intention with which it was done was thoroughly achieved.
BNE: Given the number of new bridges over rivers in Assam what IWT is doing for making it a preferred mode of transportation?
Director: Transportation is a day to day need. People should be given the facility of all modes of transport. It is not that when airports are developed the Railways will not be developed, if railways are developed then roadways will not be there, etc. All four modes of transport are needed simultaneously. Every mode of transport has its own advantages, either it be the road transportation, rail transportation, air transportation and water transportation. Wherever whichever is more convenient, whichever is more economical it will always be used and taken up by the public. It does not imply that if bridges are coming up it will not be effective. The only thing is that it has to be showcased in the right way. Besides ferry transportation like short distance transportation of crossing this side of the river to the other side of the river may no longer be used by the public because of the coming up of the bridges. But, the other solutions like the cargo transportations, the depth of water, if it is navigable throughout the year if that is maintained by the departments or concerned authorities then naturally people will take up cargo transportation through waterways. There is huge potential in tourism. That is a totally different experience on its own. In that ways construction of bridges does not affect the waterways in anyway. In fact, it is an added boon where short distance travelling by public is made more easily available for then taking this route of waterways. It is because in waterways you need to come to a docking point, load your luggage into the ferry, cross the river then again, unload and travel. If there is a bridge there then you cross the bridge and you reach your destination. So both are needed. Everything must be developed simultaneously in a holistic way.
BNE: In the past, IWT has run trials with Numaligarh Refinery Limited to use diesel blended with ethanol to run ferries? How successful were these trials and will the department start using this type of blended diesel in running ferries across Assam?
Director: These are very technical things. Wherever they have used this kind of experimentation the existing vessels have not been affected or damaged. The same trial runs were also done with ASTC buses. So there is no harmful affect as far I am aware of. The final results are very technical and very specific of which I am not aware of. But as of now whatever they had done did not affect their vessels. I don’t know the use of it whether it will continue or not? Those will be policy decisions and those are in trial phases probably.
BNE: The Government of Assam has incorporated a new company, Assam Inland Waterways Company Limited for looking over the operations and management of vessels and ports/ terminals in Assam. In this new structure, what will be the role of IWT department of Assam and the new company AIWCL?
Director: Well, for better efficiency, it is an area of the government to give smooth services to the public. For the same, running of buses, running of airports, running of trains those are better of done by private sector. Running of buses is not the job of the government. It should be done by the private players. Government’s role is to ensure that safety norms are maintained. Taking all those into consideration government of Assam has taken the right decision of running these vessels through a company where decisions can be easily taken. When things are done by company or individual any decision like purchase of a bottle of phenoyl government process will take one month time. But, at company level it does not take any time. So many decisions can be taken very fast. Hence, in operations in many a case if it is done through companies or individuals then it is better. Keeping all these things in mind a company has been formed. It is at the nascent stage. Slowly, all operations not only vessels but cargo operation, cruise vessel operation in the tourism sector, all will be looked after by the company.
BNE: A new terminal ( GGG Terminal) is coming up near Fancy Bazaar in Guwahati under your department. When is it expected to be completed and what is the investment size. Please tell us what type of services wil be available under the new terminal?
Director: One of the main reasons of World Bank coming in was to develop state of the art terminal infrastructure. As of now wherever you see as you go to a docking place or ghat there are no modern facilities. This facility is built just it is in airport and railways. Thereby without treading through any mud or slush you will be able to get up on a cruise or a vessel. As Guwahati is the gateway to the entire northeast such type of facility will be showcased. It will be able to operate from next monsoon. There is every possibility that it will be done by December 2023 or January 2024. The investment size is around 350 crores.