IWAI sets out on large public outreach along Ganga for Jal Marg Vikas Project

Even as the work on the development of Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) on Ganga is going on in full steam, a team of IWAI held a two day long intensive advocacy and communications outreach at Sahibganj and Rajmahal in Jharkhand. The public meetings are being held as part of a month-long dialogue initiative on the entire stretch of JMVP (Varanasi to Haldia) that began in July.

The IWAI is constructing a Rs 280. 90 crore multi-modal terminal at Sahibganj in Jharkhand besides a proposed ship repair facility and a freight village. These interventions are set to change the socio-economic landscape of the land-locked region which has missed the development bandwagon.

About Jal Marg Vikas Project:

The Jal Marg Vikas Project seeks to facilitate plying of vessels with the capacity of 1,500-2,000 tonnes in the Haldia- Varanasi stretch of the River Ganga. The major works being taken up under JMVP are the development of fairway, Multi-Modal Terminals, strengthening of river navigation system, conservancy works, modern River Information System (RIS), Digital Global Positioning System (DGPS), night navigation facilities, modern methods of channel marking etc.

The JMVP, which is expected to be completed by March 2023, is being implemented with the financial and technical support of the World Bank. The project will enable commercial navigation of vessels with the capacity of 1500-2,000 tons on NW-I.

An alternative mode of transport that will be environment-friendly and cost-effective. The project will contribute in bringing down the logistics cost in the country. Mammoth Infrastructure development like multi-modal and inter-modal terminals, Roll on – Roll off (Ro-Ro) facilities, ferry services, navigation aids. Socio-economic impetus; huge employment generation.

Though the project is ambitious in its intent, it does not account for the monetary value of the environmental costs that are imposed upon society. The river Ganga meanders across the landscape and spreads over its riverbed making pools and shallow areas. Fish and turtles lay eggs in these shallow areas. But thanks to dredging, which is already being done in the Ganga under the NW-1 project, the river is now channelized in one deep channel. The river no longer meanders and no longer has pools and shallow areas, destroying the habitat of fish and turtles. The stretch of the Ganga near Varanasi has been declared as a turtle sanctuary and studies in other countries indicate that large numbers get hit by fast-moving tourist boats because turtles move slowly.

The stretch of the Ganga near Bhagalpur has been declared a wildlife sanctuary for the conservation of the Ganges Dolphin. This animal does not have eyes. It navigates and catches its prey by the sound made by the movement of other aquatic creatures. The plying of large barges will create a high level of sound and make it difficult for them to survive. The paint on ships and barges will also pollute the water. The carbon dioxide released by the ships will be is absorbed more by the water because of its proximity and this too pollutes the river.

A ban on dredging in protected habitat areas. In other areas that are known to be the habitat of valued aquatic species, no dredging should be allowed in the breeding and spawning seasons.

The speed of barges traveling along the protected areas of the sanctuaries should be restricted to 5km per hour. All vessels plying on the Ganga should be fitted with noise control and animal exclusion devices so that aquatic life is not unduly disturbed. All vessels will also have to comply with `zero discharge’ standards to prevent solid or liquid waste from flowing into the river and affecting its biodiversity.

It is time to ensure that the small direct benefits from cheaper transportation shall not have large environmental costs.

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory authority in charge of the waterways in India. Its headquarters is located in Noida, UP. It does the function of building the necessary infrastructure in these waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also administration.

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