The National Inland Waterways Bill, 2015 is slated to get the final clearance during the budgetary session of the parliament. The bill promises to ignite rive-based economic development and religious cruise tourism is slated to become a major beneficiary. Inland Waterways Development Authority of India (IWAI) has already begun making preliminary moves in clearing the decks to link eight religious sites with river cruise.
After decades of ignorance, there is finally some hope that the process of developing inland waterways as a vibrant mode for all kinds of transportation in the medium to long run would now become a reality. The trigger comes from the clearance of The National Waterways Bill, 2015 in the lower house of the parliament during the winter session. And in all likelihood it will get the nod from the Rajya Sabha during the budget session next month.
The bill promises to bring a tectonic shift in using country’s river assets for economic development in myriads of ways. Shifting freight load to inland waterways from railways and roadways, no doubt, is the larger goal but the overall development plan has several layers of objectives. Among other things, it also promises to unleash the potential of river tourism in India – a largely untapped segment despite the presence of over 10 major rivers in the country covering a staggering stretch of around 15,000 km.
“The drive to give a major facelift to inland waterways in the country is now reaching to decisive stage wherein over 100 new waterways will be created over and above the five existing waterways. Initially, we had planned 101 new waterways. But after the consultation with the states and discussions at the level of the parliamentary standing committee, five more have been added to the list,” says Amitabh Verma, Chairman, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), which is spearheading Inland Waterways expansion drive. Verma claims that the authority is ready with all ground work to immediately kickstart development in over half a dozen stretches after bill gets the final nod. “We have identified eight waterways where the potential traffic is high and water flow is also good. These waterways will be developed on Ghagra, Kosi, Gandak, Kambarjua, Mandovi, Zuari, Barak river in the North East.”
|National Waterways 1 – River Ganga|
|Circuits Identified||Major Religious Attractions/Places|
|Allahabad circuit||Kumbh Mela, Triveni Sangam, All Saints Cathedral, Patalpuri Temple and Akshaya Vat, Hanuman Mandir, Chitrakoot|
|Varanasi circuit||The Ghats, ‘Ganga Aarti’, ‘Dev Dipawali’ Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, Gyanvapi Mosque, Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan|
|Patna Circuit||Harmandir Sahib, Mahavir Hanuman Mandir, Patan Devi Temple, Padri-ki- Haveli, Bodhgaya, Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Vaishali|
|Bhagalpur Circuit||Batechwar Sthan, Vaasupujya Bhagwan Mahavir Jain Mandir, Mandir Hill, Sultanganj, Deoghar|
|Kolkata Circuit||Ganga Sagar, Belur Math, Dakshineswar Temple, Pareshnath Jain Temple, Kalighat Temple, Nakhoda Mosque, St. Paul’s Catheral, St. Andhrews Church, Old Nizamat Imambara, Katra Masjid|
|National Waterways 2 – River Brahmaputra|
|Circuits Identified||Major Religious Attractions/Places|
|Guwahati circuit||Kamakhya Temple, Navagraha Temple, Bhuvaneswari Temple, Basistha Ashram Temple, Hayagriba Madhaba Temple, Umananda Temple|
|Tezpur circuit||Da Parbatia, Bamuni Hill, Agnigarh, Bishwanath Ghat (Shiva Dol)|
|Neamati Circuit||Sivasagar, Majuli Island|
While the development of waterways in the eight stretches is likely to get immediate attention, in the non-freight development plan along the proposed waterways, the authority has also been mandated to supervise the promotion of river cruise tourism to support the larger plan to develop defining religious tourism circuits in the country. Quite clearly, in periodicity terms, these are medium to long-run projects but according to Verma the authority has already set the ball rolling. “We are looking at promotion of religious cruise services in a big way. Earlier, we had formed a committee which had representatives from the Union Ministry of Tourism as well as state governments and the committee has identified religious sites along Brahmaputra and Ganga stretches which could be connected with cruise services. We have drawn a basic plan which enlists the basic improvement work on the site like putting up new pontoon bridges and also improving the road access. Some preliminary work has begun,” informs Verma. The religious circuits identified on Ganga (National Waterways 1) and Brahamputra (National Waterways 2) include Allahabad. Varanasi, Patna, Bhagalpur, Kolkata, Guwahati, Tezpur and Neamati. (Refer to the chart)
The development of river cruise in the identified religious circuits is going to be a collaborative effort wherein IWAI would primarily be involved in keeping the river infrastructure in fine fettle. “Our primary job would be to maintain the draft there so that cruise movement should be easy. We have to ensure that there are standard terminals where vessels can berth,” Verma emphasises. In precise terms, IWAI’s responsibility in promoting religious river cruise would include undertaking dredging activities, provisioning for night navigation aids (wherever required), fortnightly survey during the lean season, supervising the installation of River Information System in the vessels which will operate in thee circuits and providing safe passenger embarkation and disembarkation facilities. The state governments which will be part of this project will be taking care of putting up tourist amenities at terminals, jetties, river fronts, ghats, etc. The committee which has mooted the proposal for development of religious cruise tourism has also asked the state government to provision for pay and use separate restroom facilities for ladies and gents apart from taking care of any emergency medical facility. The state governments have also been entrusted with the responsibility of linking all pontoon jetties with roadways. “Promoting religious cruise tourism is a major project in its own right and considering the enthusiasm shown by the concerned stakeholders, it is likely to emerge as a vibrant sub-plot of our mega inland waterways development plan,” Verma underlines.