John L. Paul
Road transport lobby playing spoilsport, say officials
KOCHI: With hardly any cargo vessel using the Kollam-Kottapuram National Waterway III and the goods terminals on the route idling, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has sought the Centre’s permission to temporarily berth tourist boats in the terminals.
Sources said the State and Central governments are dithering over taking a policy decision on shifting the transportation of bulk and hazardous cargo from roads to the energy-efficient waterways. This has resulted in NW III remaining underutilised despite it being thrown open to traffic in November 2007. The IWAI has been forced to explore the tourism potential of the waterways because of the abysmally low patronage from cargo vessels. The authority had pumped in crores of rupees to dredge the waterway, to reinforce the banks and to install buoys and other night navigation facilities.
“Tourists look forward to getting down and freshening up in boat jetties that are safe and have water and power connections. Our terminals have all these and in addition, have life-saving equipment too. Chartered boat services from Kollam and Alappuzha can easily ferry tourists to Kochi, which too has quite many inland waterways and backwaters,” said an IWAI official.
As of now, only the portion of NW III passing through Kochi is being used, primarily by the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) for carrying sulphur and rock phosphate from ships to the Ambalamukal and Udyogamandal units of the FACT. The movement of huge quantities of acid from the Travancore Cochin Chemicals to the Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited continues to be through the road, despite restrictions on transporting hazardous chemicals through land.
The allegation is rife that the government is unable to prevail on industries to use the waterways to transport bulk cargo, because of pressure from the road transport lobby.
As of now, most of the cargo movement within Kerala is through the congested roads. The managing director of KSINC, K.V.R. Varier said India might be the only country which has not tapped the potential of the waterways to transport cargo and people. “Once the international container terminal comes up at Vallarpadam, the pressure on roads because of the movement of container lorries will worsen. We have sought funds from the government to build barges that can carry 10 to 12 containers that totally weigh around 200 tonnes. Our boat-building yard can build barges with a capacity of up to 300 tonnes.
Moving bulk goods through the waterway is 25 to 30 per cent cheaper than through roads. The barges would be able to transport containers from Kochi to the inland container depot coming up in Kottayam.”
With NW III underutilised, the Seaport-Airport waterway for Kochi and the plan to use inland waterways to decongest Kochi’s roads are remaining mere announcements.
Barge operators say the waterways will have patronage only if inland barges are given subsidy. Bottlenecks like the one posed by the low-lying Cherai bridge have to be cleared.