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From Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne to India’s 1st inland voyage of container ship post-Independence

Namita Tewari/PTI

New Delhi: ‘Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne’ – that is how vision and dream to run cargo ships on the Ganga used to be butt of many jokes – recalls Nitin Gadkari. Four years down the line – 80 lakh tonnes of cargo sailed on Ganga waters this year and is set to swell to 280 lakh tonnes next year – isn’t it a mini revolution, asks the man in-charge for Shipping, Ganga Rejuvenation, Water Resources and River Development in Prime Minister Narendra Modi Cabinet.

In a landmark achievement, the country’s first inland voyage by a container ship since it gained independence ended when the vessel, carrying cargo equivalent to 16 truckloads, docked in the holy city of Varanasi in November. The 1,390 km stretch from Haldia to Varanasi is one of the 111 waterways spanning 20,276 km that the country is developing.

“Initially, when I used to talk of revolutionising waterways in the country, some used to ridicule me. It was like ‘Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne’ for some. But the dreams have come true…Now the same people congratulate me…I have always said I am not a person of empty words… rather I am a person with strong commitment who has a track record of actualising dreams which he shows,” Gadkari told PTI.

The minister said that he wanted to revolutionalise the entire sector and massive work is underway on the Ganga and various other projects, including plans to convert 111 rivers into waterways. This apart, the government is exploring the use of new kinds of vehicles like hybrid aeroboats that combine land, water and aviation technology and can run on land, water and air at speed greater than 80 km per hour.

“Hybrid aeroboats from top Russian companies could be roped in for Kumbh and we may start a pilot project between Delhi and Agra and between Varanasi and Prayagraj on January 26. Top Russian firms, which manufacture these all-terrain aeroboats that can run on water, marshy land with just 10 cm water, snow or ice, fuelled by petrol, electricity or methanol with a speed of about 170 km per hour, has made presentations to the ministry.

The boats are made of aluminium, which take about 15 minutes to assemble and has a passenger capacity of 11. He expressed regret that despite coming out with a set of rules for seaplanes, so far the players have not come forward and may be they were apprehensive about its viability, but expects that eventually this space will thrive in India.

Talking about the Ganga, the minister said about 70 to 80 per cent work of cleaning will be done by March and the entire cleaning will be done by March 2020.

Also, he said, steps have been taken to ensure flow of the river throughout the year. “Waterways revolution will be a gamechanger for the country’s economy and reduce the transportation cost by about 50 per cent…Varanasi to Haldia, we are looking at all kinds of cargo transportation – cement, steel etc, and it would boost the economic growth of states like Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.

“Another priority is linking rivers and five projects are set for cabinet approval that will change the rural and agricultural economy,” the minister said. Claiming to have done work worth Rs 10 lakh crore in shipping, highways and waterways, Gadkari said that the work done by the Modi government in four years surpasses the progress in previous 50 years.

The year 2018 has been a significant one for the Ministry of Shipping. Bolstered by progressive policy interventions like amendment of Model Concession Agreement, revision of tariff guidelines and the various steps taken towards facilitating ease of doing business, the major ports kept up their impressive performance.

The ambitious Sagarmala Programme – a port-led development programme for the country – saw the completion of 89 projects, while 443 projects worth Rs 4.32 lakh crore are under various stages of implementation and development.

The year was especially remarkable for developments in the inland water transport sector. The inauguration of the multi modal terminal on River Ganga at Varanasi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first ever post-independence movement of container cargo from Kolkata to Varanasi, and the commencement of integrated movement of cargo from Kahalgaon in Bihar to Pandu in Assam over three waterways – the Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route – established that the vision of inland water as a cheaper and environment friendly mode of transport is becoming reality.

Cruise tourism was another area with important developments like the inauguration of a modernised international cruise terminal at Chennai Port and the launch of Mumbai-Goa service. Ports in India handle 90 per cent by volume and 70 per cent by value of India’s external trade. The 12 major ports in the country have a capacity to handle 1,451.19 million tonne cargo per annum while they handled 403.39 million tonne cargo by October this year.

India has 12 major ports – Kandla, Mumbai, JNPT, Marmugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Ennore, V O Chidambarnar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia).