“These roads (waterways) do not serve transportation alone, they also bind our fatherlands”, said famous German engineer, Fritz Tobt. Water, no doubt, is the life element of living world. All evolutionary changes have taken place through the water platform. Water transport is the cheapest means of transport in comparison with other systems like roadways, airways and railways. It is a widespread and maintenance-free mode of transportation. The advantage of this mode of transport is that our earth is three-fourths water while land is only one fourth. This predominance of water as a cost-effective and pollution-free mode of transport makes it attractive.
The evolution of human beings gave rise to different modes of transportation for people and goods. The importance of waterways and the vital role that they play in national and international commerce and transportation sectors cannot be understated. Globally, the maximum number of ships, ferries and cargo vessels are from China, UK, USA, France, Japan and Russia. In ancient times only Britain, Portugal and France had advanced ships and overseas merchant fleets. These nations captured every page of history due to their maritime strength. They were strong in Astrophysics and Nautical Science but India was not far away from the competition. Ancient Indians had established overseas mercantile links with Indonesia, Japan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. Before modernisation, humans used to transport daily-use goods from one place to another linked with sea coast or river banks or high and low water. There are some people who live using an ancient mode of existence like the Jarawa tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Nowadays, we use road, rail and to a limited extent air transport. Road transport requires wide and express highways to minimise the travelling time of vehicles but it adversely affects the environment, agricultural lands etc. Expansion of the railway system also causes slow progress, agricultural and forest land loss, construction of flyovers, bridges and underways which has a negative effect on the environment. Air transport has limited use as modern means of carrying goods. It cannot be used for carrying bulky goods and extensive use is restricted. Road transport system produces highest percentage of pollutants, smoke and harmful gases. Water transport is the least polluting mode of transportation. Waterways can be mapped and set up for operation with relative ease. Water transport through inland waterways is the oldest mode of transport and is as old as time. Inland waterways may be defined as the mode of transportation within a nation using rivers, lakes, high and low tides and sea coasts. It is widely used in countries like England, Russia, Maldives, Indonesia, China and a few island nations. These countries have implemented the latest technology in Inland waterways in such a way that half of their expenditure is saved on transportation. This development attracts tourists for water sports and other water activities that help in economic growth.
Take the case of Indian Inland waterways as a means for progressive future and socio-economic development. During the British era only the road system was improved and railways were started by the East India Company. The main aim behind their development was to bring goods or mined products to the sea coast so that water transport might be fed sufficiently. The British were advanced in water transport and hence they put a little stress on its progress in India. They neglected the Inland Waterways but facilitated the oceanic transport as they could easily travel from India to England and anywhere else. They reframed Inland waterways in West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Bombay regions. Before Independence, India had more than 80 big merchant ships for oceanic as well as coastal transport. After independence, that number went down and weakened our oceanic trade. During World War I & II, in both the cases overseas mercantile trade was almost stopped. Roads and railway tracks were bombarded but Inland Waterways helped in transportation of soldiers, arms and ammunition from one part to another part within those countries. Indeed, during any external aggression, Inland Waterways will play an important role in India. It will be easy to transport man & materials, arms & ammunition etc. from eastern coast to western coast and vice versa. Roadways, railways and oceanic transport may be disturbed during war by the enemy but there is very little possibility of disturbing the network of internal waterways.
India had two Shipping Corporations, Eastern Shipping Corporation established in 1950 and Western Shipping Corporation in 1956. Inland waterways were under these Shipping Corporations. When India realised the importance of water transport for export and import of goods, bulky materials, the Shipping Corporation of India was established under the command and control of the Ministry of Shipping. Certain policies and guidance were introduced for smooth and effective running of the Corporation. In 1961 both Eastern and Western Shipping Corporations came under the function of Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and Inland waterways also. The Central Government has announced 106 Inland waterways that includes modifications and setting up of new harbours and jetties for restarting water transport. There are already five existing live Inland Waterways. The Ministry of Shipping in close coordination with the Ministry of Finance has assured that these waterways will be functional and opened for public purposes. The National Waterways Act, 2016 has identified an additional 101 waterways as National Waterways. The Act states that while inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received lesser investment as compared to roads and railways. Since inland waterways are lagging behind other modes of transport, the Central Government has evolved a policy for integrated development of Inland Waterways. Their development will lead to an increase in trade & commerce, tourism and an upsurge in passenger traffic contributing to a growth in the economy.
Sea beaches in Goa are natural and attractive, but few of them have water sports facilities for national or international tourists. Local authorities should take steps to fulfil the growing demands of tourists that will add to the government revenue. Karnataka is not well developed like that of Kerala in having a network of waterways or avenues for water sports. Kerala is an example among all Indian states where the State Government gives importance to internal water transport. People and tourists in Kerala easily travel from one place to another by using Inland Waterways. Internal waterways in Tamil Nadu can be developed and achieve more financial growth. Andhra Pradesh and Odisha have the infrastructure for expansion of Inland waterways but there is the need of concerted measures by the Central and State governments for its development. West Bengal and Assam have improved their internal water transport but they are not comparable with Kerala and Maharashtra. Maharashtra has significantly improved inland water transport in Mumbai area but it needs expansion throughout the coastal region so that goods can be moved easily from one place to another using waterways. It is time-saving and does not require extra expenditure. Gujarat is also developing its own internal water transport. Moreover, Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat need special sanction and attention for development of inland waterways to match that of West Bengal, Kerala and Maharashtra. In Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Inland Waterways are the lifeline of the islanders. Many natural harbours and adjoining areas need to be developed. Some of them are Maya Bundar Harbour area, Diglipur Aerial Bay, Nil Island, Hutbay and other South Andaman Islands.
Special development measures should be recommended for those areas where natural sceneries and white sandy beaches are in existence. Maldives, a small country in Indian Ocean is a suitable example. This island country has improved its inter-island water transport system effectively. Movements of boats and ferries there are just like the movements of vehicles on a busy Indian highway. Recently, India has been elected to International Maritime Organisation (IMO) of the United Nations and this is a golden chance to strengthen our water transport. India has infrastructure, human resource but lacks strong determination and disciplined work. All South Indian and East Indian rivers should be interconnected to expand the network of Inland Waterways. These networks of waterways have the potential to be the lifeline of the people and contribute to the financial growth of the nation.