India’s Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) has announced a major investment of Rs 45,000 crore in the development of river cruise tourism, a significant step to boost the country’s tourism sector.
Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal informed that of this grant, Rs 35,000 crore will be invested specifically in the development of cruise ships, and Rs 10,000 crore will be invested in cruise terminal infrastructure by the year 2047.
The last inaugural meeting of the Inland Waterways Development Council has taken this decision. In this meeting Minister Sonowal discussed about adoption of electric propulsion in boats, the exploration of river cruises along India-Bangladesh protocol routes, and the facilitating of cargo movement through inland waterways.
Electric propulsion has already been introduced in boats; From April 2023, electric catamaran boats will be operating on National Waterway-3 around Kochi.
Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is purchasing eight catamaran ships; Of these, four are for Ayodhya, Varanasi, Mathura, and Guwahati, while two have already left for Ayodhya and Varanasi.
MoPSW aims to build at least 1,000 ships powered by green fuels (electric and green hydrogen) within the next decade, which will address environmental concerns.
The ministry plans to deploy 300 to 400 electric ships on international waterways over the next five years and gradually procure 100 percent green fuel-powered ships by 2047, BusinessLine reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched the world’s longest river cruise, MV Ganga Vilas, spanning a distance of 3,200 km from Varanasi to Dibrugarh on the India-Bangladesh route, highlighting the success of river cruises. The overwhelming response has made India a world-class river tourism country, with bookings filled for the next five to seven years.
Despite the constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, river cruise tourism continues to grow in 2020-2021; Ten river cruise activities have been recorded on the India-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route. Kolkata, Dhaka, Guwahati, Nemati (Majuli Island), and Dibrugarh are active highways.
IWAI is investing in the development of infrastructure to accommodate river cruises, such as river cruise terminals and fairways, aids to navigation, pilotage, and coordination with state governments. IWAI is also building community jetties and floating terminals, which will support river cruise ships.
There has been a massive increase in cargo movement on national waterways; From 18.07 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) in 2014 to 108.88 MTPA in 2023. The ministry is confident of going ahead, as there will be an estimated growth of 10-12 percent in the year 2024. The goals are Maritime India Vision 2030 and Maritime Amrit Kaal Vision 2047.
MoPSW has identified 26 most suitable waterways for further enhancement of inland waterways. An amount of Rs 5,911 crore has been provided for increasing capacity, development of wharves, and improving navigation facilities.
The overall ecosystem will benefit from the introduction of Ro-Ro/Ro-Pax services, changes in user charges, and an increase in regional trade with Bangladesh.
The national waterways in Odisha and Maharashtra, which will be built in a public-private partnership mode, will cost around Rs 15,000 to Rs 17,000 crore for navigational locks, fairway development, and terminals. These developments are included in the priority developments.
These initiatives will further boost the inland waterways infrastructure of the country, while also contributing to economic growth.