Ferries can provide an efficient, flexible mode of public transport for both passengers and freight, saving on operating costs and travel time

Inland water transport infrastructure is set to get a major boost in West Bengal, including in the urban agglomeration of the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA), with the central and state governments signing an agreement with the World Bank for a $105 million project.

The West Bengal Inland Water Transport, Logistics and Spatial Development Project will facilitate passenger and freight movement across the Hooghly river and undertake spatial planning to improve accessibility in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area.

Given Kolkata’s strategic location, the project will ensure that the metropolitan area emerges as a transport and logistics hub for the sub-region, and connecting to the north-east and the land-locked countries of Nepal and Bhutan, an official statement from the Ministry of Finance announcing the development said.

It will also enhance the quality of life of its residents; and contribute to the growth of the state’s logistics sector.

The project will cover the five most populous districts of southern West Bengal, including the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA), where around 30 million people or one-third of West Bengal’s population live.

The Hooghly river, a distributary of the river Ganga, in Kolkata separates the Kolkata port from its large consumption centers. These include wholesale markets and its vast hinterland comprising among others the entire North East and two landlocked neighboring countries, Nepal and Bhutan.

More than 80 percent of freight and passenger traffic currently cross the river via Kolkata’s three bridges. To curtail congestion, the city has restricted the movement of trucks to the port to certain bridges and only during limited hours, reducing access to the port and increasing the cost of logistics.

West Bengal’s ferries can provide an efficient, flexible mode of public transport for both passengers and freight, saving on operating costs and travel time when compared with road journeys.

The existing ferry system, operational for decades, caters to less than 2 percent of the passenger traffic and a small portion of the freight movement.

Developing the river transport infrastructure will enable a large population of the state to utilize its waterways, have alternative, multi-modal options for transportation for both freight and passengers, connect the hinterland with Kolkata Metropolitan Area’s markets and job centers and emerge as a logistics hub.

Implementation in two phases for long-lasting results

The first phase of the project will enhance the capacity and improve the safety of the Inland Water Transport system.

This will include rehabilitating existing jetties, buying new ferries with improved design, and installing electronic gates at 40 locations.

In the second phase, the project will support long-term investments for passenger movement, including in terminals and jetties. It will also involve improving the design of the inland water transport vessels and ensuring night navigation on hazardous routes and crossing points.

In addition to this, the private sector will be encouraged to invest in Ro-Ro vessels that will allow easier movement of trucks across the Hooghly river.

Climate-smart engineering solutions will be applied, including modular floating designs for ferry access points at the passenger terminals, to cope better with increased rainfall and flooding.

The project will also facilitate disabled-friendly amenities, ensure women’s safety and encourage women’s employment in the IWT Department as well as with the ferry operators.

According to the official statement, Additional Secretary Department of Economic Affairs (Ministry of Finance) C S Mohapatra said that “the Inland waterways are now emerging as a cost effective and an environment friendly option for passenger and freight movement. This Project will help improve the river transport infrastructure in West Bengal and help in the economic development of the state by connecting the hinterland with markets and job centers in Kolkata’s Metropolitan Area”.

“This operation will allow the state to invest in Kolkata’s economic productivity by making its waterways and ferry services part of an efficient and safe urban mobility strategy,” the statement quoted World Bank Country Director in India Junaid Ahmad as saying.