Inland Waterways


Figure 1:Index Map of Inland Navigation

Inland Waterways Authority of India

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was constituted in October 1986, for the development and regulation of inland waterways for shipping and navigation. The Authority undertakes various infrastructure development works on national waterways. It also carries out feasibility studies and prepares proposals for declaration of other waterways as National Waterways. It also assists States in development of IWT sector and provides subsidy to IWT operators for acquiring IWT fleet for transportation of cargo and passengers.

General Information

An efficient transport sector is vital for development of the economy of any country. In a large country like India, efficient transportation becomes pivotal to stimulate competitive business environment. Indian transport system comprises various modes, viz; Railways, Roadways, Inland Waterways, Coastal Shipping and Airways.



Inland Water Transport (IWT) is a fuel efficient, environment friendly and cost effective mode of transport having potential to supplement the over burdened rail and congested roads. For this, however, it is necessary that IWT mode is developed with public funding at least to a threshold level at which private sector would get attracted to this mode.
In the 19th century and first half of 20th century, IWT was an important mode of transport and navigation by power crafts/country boats played significant role in the development of trade and commerce along several rivers and canals. The advent of railways and extension of its network made a dent in share of water transport in India. Rapid growth of roads, coupled with inadequate development of IWT sector over the years gave a decisive set back to IWT and in the later years of 20th century, except in a few areas namely, Assam, Goa, Kerala, Mumbai,West Bengal, and some other coastal areas (where it has natural advantage and no developmental intervention was needed), the IWT sector was marginalized.However, considering its inherent advantages, the need for systematic development of IWT sector was always felt which is evident from the fact that since independence, several Committees studied IWT system of the country from time to time and advocated systematic development of the mode.National Transport Policy Committee in its report (1980) accordingly recommended for setting up of an Authority for development and regulation of inland waterways,which led to formation of Inland Waterways Authority of India(IWAI)in 1986 for development and regulation of inland waterways.
IWAI undertakes infrastructure development and maintenance works on National Waterways.It also takes up techno-economic feasibility studies and prepares proposals for declaration of other waterways as National Waterways. It also advises Central Government on matters related to IWT and assists States in development of IWT sector.

As per constitutional provisions, only those waterways which are declared as National Waterways come under the purview of Central Government while rest of waterways remain in the purview of respective State Government.Since formation of IWAI, five waterways namely:

  1. Ganga
  2. Brahmaputra
  3. West Coast Canal with Udyogmandal and Champakara Canals
  4. Kakinada-Puducherry Canals system along with Godavari and Krishna rivers
  5. East Coast Canal with Brahmani river and Mahanadi delta have been declared as National Waterways.
  6. One more waterway namely Barak river is under consideration of the Central Government for declaration as a National Waterways.

Waterways Identified by National Transport Policy Committee for consideration for declaration as National Waterways

The National Transport Policy Committee (1980) recom­mended the following principles for declaration of a national waterway.

  • It should possess capability of navigation by mechanically propelled vessels of a reasonable size.
  • It should have about 45 m wide channel and minimum 1.5m depth.
  • It should be a continuous stretch of 50 kms.The only excep­tion to be made to waterway length is for urban conglomera­tions and intra-port traffic.
  • It should pass through and serve the interest of more than one State (or).
  • It should connect a vast and prosperous hinterland and Major Ports (or).
  • It should pass through a strategic region where development of navigation is considered necessary to provide logistic support for national security (or).
  • It should connect places not served by any other modes of transport.

The National Transport Policy Committee considered the following waterways as having the potential for declaration as national waterway

  • The Sunderbans
  • The Mahanadi
  • The Narmada
  • The Mandovi,Zuari rivers and Cumberjua Canal in Goa
  • The Tapi,

Hydrographic surveys and techno economic feasibility studies are the Pre-requisites for establishing the potential and viabil­ity of a waterway. Extensive surveys and investigations have been carried out on all the above waterways based on which three waterways have been so far declared as national waterways namely the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the West Coast Canal. Development of many more new waterways as national waterways are planned during the 9th Plan period.


Out of the 108 layers invisaged under project India-WRIS, 'Inland waterways' is one of the layer. India has about 14,500 km of navigable waterways, which comprise of rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc. About 55 million tones of cargo are being moved annually by Inland Water Transport (IWT), in a fuel-efficient and environment-friendly mode. Its operations are currently restricted to a few stretches in the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly River, the Brahmaputra, the Barak River, the rivers in Goa, the backwaters in Kerala, inland waters in Mumbai and the deltaic regions of the Godavari-Krishna rivers. Besides these organized operations by mechanized vessels, country boats of various capacities also operate in various rivers and canals. Substantial quantum of cargo and passengers are transported in this unorganized sector as well. The Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly between Allahabad-Haldia (1620 km) in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of river Brahmaputra (891 km) in Assam and the Kollam-Kottapuram stretch of West Coast Canal along with Champakara and Udyogmandal Canals (205 km) in Kerala have so far been declared as national Waterways and are being developed for navigation by IWAI.

Indian Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has completed hydrographic survey in five sectors known as NW-1, NW-2, NW-3, NW-4 and NW-5.Brief description of these stretches is given here.Figure:1 shows the index map of all the waterways.

Development of National Waterways

Three basic IWT related infrastructure for development of waterways are:

  1. Fairway or navigational channel with desired width and depth.
  2. Navigational aids for safe navigation and
  3. Terminals for berthing of vessels, loading/unloading of cargo and for providing interface with road and rail.

The fourth component for operationalising a viable IWT system is 'inland vessels' for transportation of goods and passengers. It is envisaged that once the fairway, terminals and navigational aids are provided to a threshold level, private sector investment in inland vessels, will increase dictated by market forces resulting in increase in inland fleet.Various projects for providing/maintaining fairway, terminals and navigational aids are being executed on National Waterways.

National Waterways No. 1 and 2 are typical alluvial rivers with characteristics of braiding, meandering and large water level fluctuation (both horizontal and vertical) between summer and monsoon months.On these rivers, several shallow areas (shoals) come up during low water season and maintenance of 2m Least Available Depth, particularly in upper reaches, becomes a difficult task. In these rivers,conservancy works (dredging and bandalling) are to be repeated every year on the shoals since after every monsoon the shoals are to be identified afresh and corrective measures (River Conservancy works) taken up. NW-3 on the other hand, is a tidal canal with predictable and uniform tidal variation in water level. On this waterway, therefore, once the desired depth is provided by capital dredging, it can be maintained for a number of years by undertaking nominal maintenance dredging from time to time as per actual requirement. NW-4 and 5 consist of both canal and river stretches. While canal portions need to be extensively dredged once to provide depth, on Godavari and Krishna rivers yearly dredging will be required and on Brahmani river five barrages with navigational locks have been proposed. Works of NW-4 and 5 will commence after completion of their DPR's, approval of development projects by competent authorities and allocation of adequate funds by the Government of India. PIB note for development of NW-4 has already been prepared and submitted to Ministry of Shipping for approval.

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Some of the other waterways identified for development during the 9th Five Year plan and beyond are as follows:


IWT route from Haldia to Bangladesh runs through the Sunder­bans delta. This is a tidal inland waterway route which forms part of the trade and transit route under the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol. The hydrographic survey was conducted in 1988-89 and proposal submitted to the Government for its declaration as National Waterway.

Goa Waterways

Goa waterways are among the ten waterways identified by the National Transport Policy Committee (NTPC). These waterways com­prises of Mondovi, Zuari rivers and Cumberjua canal having a length of about 122 kms. The waterways are fully functional with about 15 million tonnes annual cargo movement which mainly con­sists of iron ore from mines to Marma goa Port.

DVC Canal

This is a navigation canal system connecting Durgapur with Tribeni in Hooghly river which runs through a distance of 136 kms. Bhagwati Committee had identified this as a prospective waterway to be revived. Techno economic studies and the hydro­graphic surveys of this navigational canal system is in progress. Revival of this canal for movement of Coal from Durgapur mines to various destinations in NW-1 and 2 was proposed during the 9th Five Year Plan.

Narmada River

The Narmada river is the largest river in India flowing from East to West.It’s source is near Amarkantak in the central river flows almost straight course towards to the Gulf of Khambot. River Narmada is one of the 10 major waterways identified for declaration as National Waterways by the National Transport Policy Committee(NTPC). The Pre-feasibility study for navigation on river Narmada waterway was carried out in 1981/ 82 by the Government of Gujarat. Devel­opment of Narmada in the lower reaches which are partly tidal below Sardar Sarovar Dam, and development of navigation in the reservoir area of the high dams is proposed during the 9th Five Year Plan.

Extension of National Waterway No-III

Based on the Techno Economic Feasibility study the stretch of the West Coast Canal from Kottapuram to Kollam was declared as National Waterway in 1993. Extension of the waterway towards North up to Kasargod and towards South up to Kovalam is being persistently sought by public representatives and the State Government in view of the inadequacy of transport infrastructure in Kerala.

Other Waterways

In addition to above other waterways which are proposed (in the working group report) to be developed during the 9th Five Year Plan include Yamuna u/s Allahabad including the stretch in the Delhi region, IWT route at Mumbai to decongest the Mumbai city, and feeder routes in the existing National Waterways, waterways of Punjab and Haryana, Polavaram canal, Rajasthan canal, Mizoram waterways etc. Development of these waterways would be taken up either as central schemes or as centrally sponsored schemes where the State Govt.would have a major role to play.

Port Hand Buoy

Thannermukkom Lock


Bank Protection


Pol Terminal


Starboard Hand Buoy


Patrol Boat in Operation


IWT Terminal at Maradu


IWT Terminal at Aluva



Constraint in the Development of IWT

  • Diversion of water for irrigation, industrial and other needs reducing the flows in the rivers resulting in the reduction of depth and shoal formation.
  • Excessive silt loads from erosion of uplands due to bad catchment management and increased deforestation.
  • Inadequate river conservancy measures, resulting in gradual deterioration of waterways.
  • Non availability of adequate navigational aids resulting in unsafe passage and high travel time.
  • Inadequate vertical and horizontal clearances for plying vessels of economic size in many traditional waterway routes.
  • Lack of adequate terminal facilities at the loading and unloading points being non-existent and where existent being inadequate.

Water requirements for Navigational Purposes

Inland navigation is considered to be an energy saving mode of transport.It requires the maintenance of a specified water depth and width depending upon the size of vessels expected to use that waterway. This necessitates the release of adequate discharges. The detention of water in upstream storages may put some of the existing navigable waterways out of use unless ade­quate provision is made to release sufficient water downstream. Therefore, the discharge required to be made for maintaining the required water depth in the reaches of river planned for inland navigation should be made. Some times water released for some other purpose may simultaneously serve the requirements of navi­gation. Efforts should be made plan such complimentary uses as far as possible.Prevention of run off and preservation of water should be planned in all rivers to retain the present discharge level and to augment the lean season discharge which would not only facili­tate improved navigability but also result in availability of water for other purposes. In all multi-purpose projects in water resource management, the navigational component should be identi­fied at the inspection stage and provisions made to derive the maximum navigational potential. This is applicable in case of dams canalisation and also in planning of diversions as part of flood season.Preservation of existing canals, lakes etc. is an essential ingredient of environmental protection.The present level of discharge should be maintained in all the water bodies. In case of taking up multipurpose projects on any river the navigational requirement should be kept in view for which a list of navigable waterways in the country is enclosed.

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