GUWAHATI: Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal has asserted that his ministry is working on various strategies to boost inland waterways in Assam for a rejuvenated economy and trade resurgence in the Northeast.
Addressing the Stakeholders Conclave for North-Eastern Region on “Waterways as Engine for Growth” at Assam Administrative Staff College at Khanapara here on Friday, Sonowal said that the Centre has given a special focus to the waterway connectivity in the Northeast as a result of which Mongla and Chittagong ports in Bangladesh are now accessible to the region. He urged the stakeholders from across the NE to take advantage of the conclave and give priorities to products that the region can export to foreign countries.
Sonowal announced that as per request from Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, his ministry would set up a maritime institute in Assam. Urging the local exporters to take the advantage of the waterways for transportation of their cargos, the Union Minister called upon all north-eastern states to prepare proposals for developing their existing waterways.
Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that while the potential of waterways in the region remained dormant for a long period after independence, it was under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the waterways sector got a new momentum in the Northeast.
Stating waterways as the cheapest and a very eco-friendly mode of transportation, Sarma urged the exporters and business communities to come forward to take advantage of the waterways. He thanked Union Minister Sonowal for his initiatives in rejuvenating the waterways sector for the benefit of the north-eastern region. He said that as 95% of the country’s trade takes place through waterways, a very lucrative career option is available in this sector for the young generation.
The Chief Minister further urged the Cochin Shipyard Limited to design some good-quality river ambulances for providing better medical services to the riparian population of the State.
Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping & Waterways Shantanu Thakur said that the Shipping Ministry is taking initiatives to develop and use water resources and waterways for the economic development of the northeastern region.
The ministry is also taking the initiative to promote river tourism and water sports along the Brahmaputra. It has identified seven tentative locations (Oriumghat, Bhupen Hazarika Setu, Koliabhomora Bridge at Tezpur, Bogibeel Bridge, Dikhow Mukh, Kalongmukh and Uzanbazar) for the development of tourist jetties that will facilitate river cruise tourism, generate local employment and also growth for local business. In addition to these, four tourist jetties at Jogighopa, Pandu, Neamati and Bishwanath Ghat have already been approved.
The conclave discussed how the trade in the Northeast is likely to benefit from the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for cargo movement from India. This was critical for the landlocked Northeast to secure a short and swift route to the sea. The first trial movement from this new route took place recently. The Dhubri terminal on NW 2 has also been developed to facilitate cargo between Bhutan and Bangladesh. A multi-modal logistics park including an IWT Terminal at Jogighopa in Assam will also help Bhutan to benefit.
The stakeholders during the conclave also discussed the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route developed jointly by India and Bangladesh at an estimated cost of Rs 305.84 crore to provide alternative connectivity for all North-eastern states from Guwahati and Jogighopa to Kolkata and Haldia ports. The Sirajganj-Diakhowa (175 km) on River Jamuna and Ashuganj-Zakiganj (295 km) of river Kushiyara on the IBP routes are being developed to connect with River Brahmaputra and River Barak (NW-16) in Assam. The development of an Eastern Grid – which will have Brahmaputra and Barak rivers along with Ganga and Sundarbans – will work as a catalyst to boost regional integration and trade with South Asia and Eastern South Asia; including Myanmar and to further, potentially countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. For swift cargo movement from the Northeast, the government has built a seaport and IWT terminal at Sittwe, Myanmar and IWT terminal at Paletwa on Kaladanriver in Myanmar, which will be connected to Mizoram by road. The grid will likely provide sustainable IWT infrastructure to bring down overall logistics costs and achieve cost-efficiency by a significant reduction in logistics cost by 20-30 per cent.