In a significant move to boost the country’s tourism sector, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways (MoPSW) in India has announced a massive investment of Rs 45,000 crore for the development of river cruise tourism.
Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal disclosed that out of this allocation, Rs 35,000 crore will be specifically designated for the development of cruise vessels, while Rs 10,000 crore will be invested in cruise terminal infrastructure by the year 2047.
The decision follows the recent inaugural meeting of the Inland Waterways Development Council, where Minister Sonowal discussed various strategies, including the adoption of electric propulsion in boats, exploration of river cruises along Indo-Bangladeshi protocol routes, and facilitation of cargo movement through inland waterways.
The utilisation of electric propulsion in boats has already begun, with electric Catamaran boats plying on National Waterways-3 around Kochi since April 2023.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is procuring eight Catamaran vessels, two each for Ayodhya, Varanasi, Mathura, and Guwahati, with two already en route to Ayodhya and Varanasi.
Addressing environmental concerns, the MoPSW aims to have at least 1,000 vessels powered by green fuel, including electric and green hydrogen, within the next decade.
The Ministry is gradually working towards achieving 100 per cent green fuel-powered vessels by 2047, with plans to deploy 300 to 400 electric vessels on inland waterways over the next five years, reports businessline.
Highlighting the success of river cruises, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently flagged off the world’s longest river cruise, MV Ganga Vilas, covering a distance of 3,200 km from Varanasi to Dibrugarh along the India-Bangladesh route. The overwhelming response has led to bookings being filled for the next five to seven years, placing India on the global river tourism map.
Despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21, river cruise tourism is gaining momentum, with ten river cruise movements recorded on the Indo-Bangladeshi Protocol (IBP) route. The active route includes Kolkata, Dhaka, Guwahati, Neamati (Majuli Island), and Dibrugarh.
In terms of infrastructure development to accommodate river cruises, the IWAI is investing in the creation of river cruise terminals, and fairways, aids to navigation, pilotage, and coordination with state governments. The IWAI is also developing community jetties and floating terminals to support river cruise vessels.
The overall growth in cargo movement on National Waterways has been impressive, increasing from 18.07 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) in 2014 to 108.88 MTPA in 2023. With a forecasted growth of 10-12 per cent in FY24, the Ministry is confident of surpassing the targets set in the Maritime India Vision 2030 and Maritime Amrit Kaal Vision 2047.
To further enhance inland waterways, the MoPSW has identified 26 most viable waterways, with a total allocation of Rs 5,911 crore for capacity augmentation, development of jetties, and improvement of navigation facilities.
The implementation of Ro-Ro/Ro-Pax services, revision of user charges, and enhanced regional trade with Bangladesh will contribute to the overall ecosystem.
Priority developments include National Waterways in Maharashtra and Odisha, to be executed in a public-private partnership mode, requiring an estimated Rs 15,000-Rs 17,000 crore for navigational locks, fairway development, and terminals.
These initiatives are expected to further bolster the country’s inland waterway infrastructure and contribute to economic growth.