New Delhi: Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed a bill to declare the 121-km stretch of Barak river in Assam as National Waterway, a move aimed at unified development of waterways for shipping, navigation and transportation of cargo to the north-eastern region.
The National Waterway (Lakhipur-Bhanga Stretch of the Barak River) Bill, 2013 to develop the Barak river stretch as country`s sixth National Waterway would particularly benefit Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh by facilitating cargo movement there.
Shipping Minister GK Vasan, who moved the Bill for passage, said the project will entail an investment of Rs 123 crore and would be completed in two phases in five years.
"The waterway has the potential to transport 12.45 lakh tonne of cargo like tea, coffee, iron, steel and coal per annum after its development by 2018-19," Vasan said adding, it will not only augment infrastructure there but would benefit lakhs of people.
The first phase of the project would be completed by 2016-17 followed by the second phase which is likely to be completed by 2018-19.
Replying to members queries, he said the country has already five National Waterways covering a length of 4,382 km of which infrastructure has been developed for initial three while the process is on for the remaining two.
"Infrastructure facilities currently available on this waterway are not adequate for safe, convenient and sustained shipping and navigation by large mechanised craft," the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill said.
It said the regulation and development of the proposed waterway "is in the public interest" and would provide "safe, convenient and sustained shipping."
On expenditure, it mentioned that apart from Rs 123 crore on development of facility, "an expenditure of Rs 3.6 crore per annum would be incurred for maintenance of navigation aids, terminals and dredging."
The projects would be implemented in two phases by Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) set up under IWAI Act, 1985.
The Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on March 22 and was referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport and Tourism, headed by Sitaram Yechury, for examination, which had raised doubts over the Government`s ability to operationalise the new waterway saying two such projects had been pending for over 5 years due to fund crunch.
"The Government has brought a Bill for yet another waterway. It raises genuine apprehensions about the operationalisation of this waterway," it has said.
The Committee said Parliament had passed the law to create Kakinada-Puducherry canals with rivers Godavari and Krishna as National Waterway No 4 and the East Coast Canal with Brahmani river and Mahanadi delta rivers as National Waterway No 5 in 2008 but these projects are yet to be operationalised.
It, however, said that if operationalised, lots of time and resources wasted in transporting over-sized cargo to the north-east would be saved.
It had also recommended extending waterways to Chittagong to provide a hassle-free movement of cargo saying, "have a water protocol with Bangladesh would open immense possibility of cargo movement from India particularly from North Eastern region."
D Bandopadhyay (Trinamool Congress) also stressed today for protocol with Bangladesh, on which Vasan said five such existing protocols already existed.
Members who participated in debate included B Kalita (Cong), VP Singh (BJP), Tarun Vijay (BJP) and Najma Heptulla (BJP).