Hazardous, bulk goods continue to be transported through State's roads endangering people’s lives
The stranglehold of the lorry lobby over the movement of bulk cargo is hampering attempts to decongest Kerala’s roads and highways.
“Members of the lobby, including those from Namakkal (which is home to mega fleet owners), are trying to torpedo the government’s plans to shift the transportation of bulk cargo through the waterways. But we will overcome their moves and ensure the phased shifting of goods transport through the waterways, which is a highly energy-efficient mode of transport” said Jacob Thomas, the Director of Ports.
Lorries worsen pollution and cause accidents, as compared to vessels which transport cargo in bulk through the waterways.
By 2015, it is hoped to transport 15 per cent of the goods through the waterways and by 2020, 40 per cent of the State’s cargo. The State government has planned for incentives to encourage water transport and will demonstrate how goods can be taken through the waterways at a lesser cost than through the highways, he said.
The Minister for Excise and Ports K. Babu had recently said that the promotion of coastal shipping and increased connectivity between ports in Kerala’s coast are high on the government’s priority list.
“Subsidy will be extended to the transportation of cargo through the waterways and also to build vessels having low draught. The government has taken steps to remove fishing nets and other bottlenecks along the Kollam-Kottappuram National Waterway III,” he said.
Mr. Thomas said that Kerala’s plenteous waterways were used to transport goods for many centuries. “The 75 per cent exemption on service tax and the subsidy on diesel are to be blamed for the surface-transport lobby dominating the transport of bulk cargo. The Central government must take a call on the issue. The State government has written to the Centre, demanding that a level-playing field is required so that stakeholders can choose between road and waterway transport,” he said.
Currently, the eight terminals built by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) along the 205-km-long Kollam-Kottapuram (in Thrissur) National Waterway III are idling because a lion’s share of goods is transported through Kerala’s congested highways.
Mr. Thomas spoke of how two big companies showed interest in transporting their goods through the waterway from the Kollam port, while another firm opposed it. This shows the undue influence exerted by the lorry lobby on many such firms.
Non-perishable goods like granite, marble, different types of toxic chemicals and fuel, must be transported through the waterways, Mr. Thomas said.
Referring to the Motor Vehicles’ Department penalising a few tanker lorries whose fitness certificate had expired, but were transporting highly-inflammable aviation turbine fuel, the Ernakulam RTO, B. J. Antony said that they were registered in Tamil Nadu.
“Lorry operators in Kerala are more aware of the hazards involved in transporting the cargo,” he said.
Sources in the BPCL said that the fuel can easily be transported from the refinery to the Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram airports through the waterway, in roll-in, roll-out vessels.