Water metro in Kochi

Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India’s first water metro in Kerala’s Kochi which will connect 10 islands around the city in Malabar coast through battery-operated electric hybrid boats.

Waterways – Kochi Scenario

  • The Kerala backwaters are a network of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast (Known as Malabar Coast) of Kerala state in southern India. Kochi is the largest city in the south Indian state of Kerala. Kochi is less vulnerable to storm surges or cyclones compared to cities on the eastern coast of the country. The city sits within a complex estuarine system comprising Lake Vembanad and the many rivers flowing into the lake, including the Periyar and Muvattupuzha rivers.

Inland water ways India Scenario

India has approximately 14,500 km of navigable waterways which comprise of rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc. Navigable waterways are a fuel-efficient, environment friendly and cost-effective mode of transport. Despite the inherent advantages, the share of Inland waterway transport (IWT) in India is currently estimated to be only around 2% in comparison to 35% in Bangladesh and 20% in Germany.


  • Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI): Statutory authority created under the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) Act, 1985 for regulation and development of Inland Waterways.
  • National Inland Navigation Institute (NINI): Setup by IWAI to develop human resources for Inland Water Transport sector
  • National Waterways Act, 2016: Under this act, Parliament has declared 111 National Waterways which cover a total length of 20300 Kms and spread across 24 States.
  • Sagarmala Program: Promote port-led development through 14,500 km of potentially navigable waterways
  • Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP): Capacity augmentation of navigation on National Waterway-1 with the technical and financial assistance of the World Bank.
  • Central Road and Infrastructure fund (CRIF): Set up under the CRIF Act, 2000 and administered by Finance Ministry. The money for this fund is raised through the cess on petrol and high-speed diesel. The fund can be used for various social and physical infrastructure projects, including inland water transport. 
  • International Cooperation such as Kaladan Multi- modal Transit Transport Project, Treaty of Transit between India and Nepal, agreement between India and Bangladesh for use Chaogram and Mongla Ports for transit movement of Indian Goods. 

Some important operational National Waterways in India

S.no.National WaterwaysDetails of waterways States
1National Waterway 1Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly River System (Haldia – Allahabad)Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand & West Bengal
2National Waterway 2Brahmaputra River (Dhubri – Sadiya)Assam
3National Waterway 3West Coast Canal (Kottapuram – Kollam), Champakara and Udyogmandal CanalsKerala
4National Waterway 4Krishna River (Vijayawada – Muktyala)Andhra Pradesh
5National Waterway 5Dhamra-Paradio via Mangalagadi to PankopalOdisha
6National Waterway 8Alappuzha- Changanassery CanalKerala
7National Waterway 9Alappuzha-Kottayam – Athirampuzha CanalKerala
8National Waterway 16Barak RiverAssam
9National Waterway 27Cumberjua RiverGoa
10National Waterway 68Mandovi River Goa
11National Waterway 86Runarayan River West Bengal
12National Waterway 97Sunderbans Waterways West Bengal
13National Waterway 111Zuari River Goa

Ports & Shipping and Inland Waterways 

India has a coastline spanning about 7,500 km, forming one of the biggest peninsulas in the world. Around 90 per cent of India’s external trade by volume and 70 per cent by value are handled by 12major ports and 205 non-major ports operate on India’s coast. Yet, roads and railways continue to be the dominant mode for cargo movement. Despite being the most cost-effective and efficient mode, water transport accounted for mere 6 per cent of freight transport in India in 2016-17. 

Constraints before inland water ways 

  • Modal mix: Roads (54 per cent) continue to be the dominant mode of transporting cargo, followed by rail (33 per cent). Transportation of cargo through waterways – shipping and inland water – accounts for a minuscule modal share (6 per cent) despite it being the most cost effective and efficient mode. 
  • Draught levels: Most Indian container handling ports lack the capability to handle large container vessels due to inadequate depth; a minimum draft depth of 18 metres is needed to enable mother vessels to dock at ports. 
  • Connectivity to ports: Weak hinterland connectivity between production centres and gateway ports 
  • Transhipment port: A large percentage of containers in India are currently transhipped through other ports, such as Colombo (just south of India), Singapore (East) due to the absence of a transhipment port in the country. This has led to additional costs and delays due to the feeder voyage from India to the hub port. 
  • Capital for inland vessels: At present, the cost of capital is very high and makes IWT freight uncompetitive. 
  • Technical issues in inland waterways: The varying and limited depths due to the meandering and braiding of alluvial rivers and the erosion of their banks causing excessive siltation, lack of cargo earmarked for IWT, non-mechanized navigation lock systems and insufficient unloading facility at terminals hinder the use of IWT by shippers. 

Way forward

  • Open up India’s dredging market: At present, the Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) and a limited set of private vendors serve the Indian dredging market, limiting competition.
  • Expedite the implementation of Sagarmala to modernise ports.
  • Enhance last mile connectivity to inland waterways: IWT should be integrated to multimodal/ intermodal connectivity. Inland terminals with proper road and/or rail connectivity and seamless transfer of goods from one mode to the other are important for an efficient logistics supply chain.
  • Facilitate access to capital for inland vessels: Financing for inland vessels could be made part of priority sector lending by banks. Categorizing inland vessels as infrastructure equipment will further ease access to capital issues for a sector where capital investments and operational costs are high.
  • Address technical and regulatory constraints in inland waterways to ease movement of inland vessels- Detention of a vessel without a valid reason should not be allowed; A clear directive needs to be issued for security of inland vessels, crew and cargo; Strengthen existing Inland Water Transport Directorates or Maritime Boards or set them up in states where they do not exist to ease the IWT business and to ensure efficient regulation and facilitation of IWT for cargo movement.
  • Streamline the governance of inland waterways: Currently, inland waterways are governed by multiple authorities including the Central Inland Water Corporation Limited (CIWTC Ltd), port authorities and state governments. Streamlining the regulatory structure and bringing an overarching body to oversee Inland Water Transport such as the IWAI will bring more consistency in the rules and strategy of the sector.
  • Develop measures for year-round navigation: Currently, due to weather conditions, several inland waterways are only serviceable during a part of the year. The seasonality of this mode of transport reduces its adoption. Efforts should be made to develop deeper stretches of the river, i.e., at least 2.5 m to 3 m. 

PYQ – 2016

Q. Enumerate the problems and prospects of inland water transport in India. (250 words)

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