Q: In the current landscape and ecology of coastal and inland transport, how does the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) envisage this method of transport will grow?

Ans : Inland waterways are being declared as national waterways, which are the feeder channels to the ports. They are bringing the hinterland and its cargo to the sea. For example, the Ganga River flows to Kolkata Port and the Mahanadi to Paradip Port. Coastal and inland transport are complementary to each other. One of the issues with the Indian Vessel Act 2007 was that one had to get the permission of the Director General of Shipping for each voyage, which was a cumbersome process. The Ministry of Shipping has declared that the sea up to 5 nautical miles from the beach is inland water, which is a huge change. Vessels that can withstand waves up to 2 m high do not need permission for each movement. So, vessels can pass between inland waterways and coastal waterways and vice versa.

Under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP), which is being assisted by the World Bank, we commissioned a German company, DST GMbH, to design vessels. Typical vessels require less power, are cheaper and are more efficient. They also designed reverse sea vessels (RSVs). The plans are on our website and they can be used by anyone. We are also procuring some RSVs for seamless movements between the national waterways and coastal waterways.

We are building a jetty near ECO plant on Mahanadi river. The consignment of fertilizer will move 8 Km through Mahanadi river under IWAI To conclude, the synergy between coastal and national waterways is important.


Shri Pravir Pandey, Chairman of Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and Project Director of Jal Marg Vikas Project, is a 1992 Batch Officer of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA&AS) and had been a member of Indian Civil Services Team in 1995-1996.

He has worked as Director, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Government of India in 2002-2007. Later, he undertook various UN Assignments at London, Geneva, Manila, and Riyadh before serving as the Auditor General of Uttarakhand in 2008-2011. He was then posted as Minister in the Embassy of India, Washington DC from 2011-2014.

Since March 2014, he has been in the Inland Waterways Authority of India, Ministry of Shipping, first as Member (Finance) and then Vice Chairman and the Project Director of the prestigious Jal Marg Vikas Project that is being implemented with the technical and financial assistance of the World Bank for the development of river Ganga (NW 1) for navigation.

Shri Pravir Pandey has taken upon himself to re-write the history of navigation on river Ganga. He is steering the organization’s goal of restarting navigation on Ganga from Varanasi to Haldia.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the implementation of JMVP on 3 January 2018 at an estimated cost of Rs 5,369 crores. The project is receiving technical and financial assistance from the World Bank. The objective of JMVP is to improve the navigability of National Waterway 1 (NW-1) for vessels of up to 2000 dead weight tons (DWT). The major activities under the project are the construction of multimodal terminals and jetties, a river information system, channel marking, navigational locks, river training and conservancy works. It is scheduled to be completed by March 2023.

In India, a number of central and state agencies play a role in the regulation, operation and sustenance of inland water transport. Smooth collaboration and functioning are required for inland water transport to be viable.

  • Some of the factors in this sector are:
  • Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI)
  • Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Limited (CIWTC) and other operators
  • Customers
  • State governments
  • Port authorities
  • Transport development agencies

Q: Who are the key stakeholders that IWAI aims to cater for and what is the expected growth?

Ans : For every waterway, the commercial viability is based on two or three key commodities. For National Waterway 1, these are coal, stone chips, aggregates (construction material) and containers. From June 2019, two companies will start shipping rice in containers from Varanasi to various locations. Adani Wilmar Limited is planning to move edible oil and other products from Varanasi to Dhaka. There are huge demands for containerised cargo, followed by FMCG products. Pepsi Co has stated that some of the benefits of transport by water is that there is no pilferage, no damage en route and no thefts.

JMVP was initiated in 2018. In 2015/16, 3.5 MMT of cargo was shipped along inland waterways. Today, we have reached a mark of 7 MMT. The Varanasi Multi-modal Terminal is ready and operational. The Sahebganj Multi-modal Terminal in Jharkhand is in development and hopefully will be inaugurated in July. Haldia Multi-modal Terminal will also be complete by the year end. Our projections are that by 2021/22, cargo volumes will reach 23 MMT. This increase in transport by inland waterways will reduce congestion and pollution on the roads and contribute to reducing India’s carbon footprint.

  • Barge operators
  • Shippers (like mine owners)
  • Operators in Bangladesh
  • State governments

IWAI has been making special efforts to promote the movement of cargo along national waterways. In the first half of 2018/19, cargo traffic had increased to 33.8 MMT compared to 16.7 MMT in the same period in 2017/18, which is 102 per cent more.

Q: What facilities are there for coastal movements?

Ans : We have three multi-modal terminals. Varanasi Multi-modal Terminal is ready and operational. Sahebganj Multi-modal Terminal will be ready by July and Haldia Multi-modal Terminal by November. Apart from these, we have a small container terminal at Kali Ghat. We also have a multi-modal terminal in Guwahati for trade with Bangladesh.

Q: What challenges does IWAI face while providing services to its stakeholders?

Ans : Vessel financing is one of the major challenges. The payback period to the banks is generally 8 to 9 years. However, a vessel can be operated for only around 25–30 years, which is not proportional in terms of the payback period.

Vessel design is another issue. We have designed vessels with DST in 14 categories, such as bulk cargo, break-bulk, containerised cargo, automobile carriers, etc.

The Financial issue which needs to address is “Income Tax” levied on barges and small boats which will be plying under IWAI. Under Merchant shipping act, the vessels plying can accumulate the same for 7 years. And he gets the credit of same if utilized for shipping activities.

This needs to be applicable to vessels plying under IWAI also.

Q: Does the IWAI compete with private operators ?

Ans : IWAI has nine vessels, which are run by operators. The IWAI is an authority like the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and as such will not operate its own vessels.

Q: The government of India has a vision for a Digital India and is running ease of doing business (EoDB) initiatives to enable e-payments, e-delivery orders, etc. How is data exchanged among stakeholders?

Ans : We have established a River Information Station (RIS) from Varanasi to Haldia. It stores DGPS data for vessels and it provides channel data through electronic navigation charts to shipmasters. It has a night navigation facility and information on the condition of the river (velocity, area, etc.).

It knows whether a vessel is going into the channel or diverting from it. However, all of these pieces of information need to be integrated. For example, the officers on a ship starting from Haldia will want to know about the conditions in Varanasi or Jharkhand. Thus, a digital platform needs to be built. We are working with a team of EY and World Bank experts and have developed a design for such a digital platform. For example, it will be able to list which ships are arriving at Varanasi on 30 May, when they will berth and their capacity. For each, it knows what warehousing capacity is required, how many containers it can carry and how long it will take to load the containers. It can tell you when the vessel will start from Varanasi and when it will reach Patna. In addition, it knows about any special requirements for the vessel.

Q: Coastal movements are not only via inland waterways but also for trading across the border with Bangladesh. How do Indian customs facilitate this trade?

Ans : Customs agents are already in place. Currently, 3 MT of fly ash goes from India to Bangladesh every year. Moreover, hundreds of Bangladeshi vessels carry fly ash from the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC) power plant.

Q: Which route has started for passenger under IWAI?

Ans : Cruise vessels have started carrying passengers between Kolkata and Dhaka.

Q: The government of India has launched serious initiatives to improve the connectivity through inland waterways for passengers. What is planned for the new passenger terminals?

Ans : The systems are very transparent, fast and robust. IWAI had a budget of Rs 80 crore up till 2014. In the current financial year, we crossed the Rs 1,000 crore mark and 80 per cent of the tenders have been completed successfully.