“Emerging significance of Sri Lanka in maritime connectivity of South and South East Asia underlines the relevance of developing inland water transport (IWT) in BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India ) countries,” says, Commodore Mohammed Muzamal, Chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) while speaking in the Ganga Basin Policy Dialogue.
“Transshipment of cargo arriving at Sri Lanka to the ports of Chittagong and Mongla in Bangladesh and from there by waterways to locations in Bhutan, Nepal, and India will reduce the logistics cost considerably”, he added.
The dialogue was organized by CUTS International at Kathmandu under the project ‘Expanding tradable benefits of trans-boundary water: Promoting navigational usage of inland waterways in Ganga and Brahmaputra basins’. The objective of the meeting was to present findings from the country specific diagnostic studies conducted in the Ganga Basin of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh; facilitate knowledge sharing on waterways governance and to promote policy discourses bringing in the upper and lower riparian so as to enable reform measures.
While CUTS International presented the findings from India, South Asia Watch on Trade Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) and Unnayan Shamannay shared the studies from Nepal and Bangladesh respectively. The participants included officials from BIWTA, Inland Water Authority of India (IWAI), Water and Energy Commission (Nepal), academia and civil society organizations in South Asia.
Shashi Bhusan Shukla, Secretary, IWAI shared the updates about the developmental work undertaken in the Jal Marg Vikas Project and said that development of Kalughat (West Bengal) and Jogighopa (Assam) terminals will provide connectivity to landlocked countries of Nepal and Bhutan, respectively. The techno feasibility studies of Ghagra, Gandak and Kosi rivers will also provide insights on the possibility of connecting Nepal and India through waterways.
Keshav Dhoj Adhikari, Joint Secretary, Water and Energy Commission of Nepal said that inclusion of transboundary inland waterways as an agenda in the bilateral meetings of Ministry of Water Resources of Nepal and India would pave way for an inclusive discourse on the subject between two countries. The detailed project report (DPR) of Kosi high dam which has been delayed over more than a decade also has a component of inland waterways connecting Kosi and Ganga.
The livelihood opportunities offered by IWT sector in the fairway and terminal development as well as in tourism sector were also highlighted by civil society representatives in the meeting. Capacity building and skill development of local communities and other stakeholders whose livelihoods are directly dependent on rivers will assure their inclusion in the development process and gain their confidence.
With respect to protocol routes between India and Bangladesh, though both governments are keen in undertaking to dredge and maintaining least available depth for navigation, there are uncertainties regarding the no man’s area along border points especially in those areas wherein the river traverses between India and Bangladesh when it enters Bangladesh. The officials from relevant authorities in both countries agreed to take this matter forward.
The event also necessitated undertaking joint feasibility and hydro-morphological studies of waterways, basin management, joint dredging and silt management, user-friendly customs policies and data sharing which will lead to cooperation among riparian countries.