Budgetary support of Rs 123 crore for infrastructure on the stretch in Assam
The Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch of the Barak river in Assam will soon be declared as the sixth National Waterway, announced finance minister P Chidambaram in his budget 2013-14.
He said the minister of water resources will move a bill in Parliament to declare the 121 km stretch as the sixth National Waterway. The minister said preparatory work is under way to build a grid connecting waterways, roads and ports. “The 12th Plan has an adequate outlay for capital works, including dredging, on the national waterways. The objective is to choose barge operators, through competitive bidding, to transport bulk cargo on the national waterways. The first transport contract has been awarded in West Bengal from Haldia to Farakka,” he added.
On February 15, the Union Cabinet gave a nod to the introduction of a bill in the Parliament for declaring Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch as a National Waterway. Since the 9th Five Year Plan, talks have been going on about this and similar declaration of waterways at the Sundarbans and extension of National Waterways from Kollam to Kasaragod in Kerala.
However, it raises a concern that more waterways will be announced even as the five declared National Waterways are not fully functional and suffer from lack of funds and manpower. The Act to declare Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch as a National Waterway is expected to result in unified development of the waterways for shipping and navigation and transportation of cargo to the north-eastern region, particularly in Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Union Cabinet has also given approval for preparing projects and schemes for the development of infrastructure facilities on the Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch at an estimated cost of Rs 123 crore with implementation in two phases. The first phase of the project would be completed by 2016-17 followed by the second phase which is likely to be completed by 2018-19.
Chidambaram, in the budget, also declared that two new major ports will be established in West Bengal and in Andhra Pradesh to add 100 million tonnes of capacity. In addition, a new outer harbour will be developed in the VOC port at Thoothukkudi, Tamil Nadu through public private partnership at an estimated cost of Rs 7,500 crore. When completed, this will add 42 million tonnes of capacity. This has irked activists in Andhra Pradesh who say not only is there a high density of notified minor ports along the coast (one every 33.3 km on the coast), but the distance between many of these ports is fairly small. Gangavaram and Vishakapattinam are operational, with a distance of only 14 km between them.