Converting waterways into commerce way is now a priority for the government, a senior official told IANS.
For this, a detailed Request for Qualification (RFQ) tender will soon be issued to private players who are ready to manage and successfully run the system.
Port infrastructure is planned at cities like Varanasi, Allahabad and Patna among others, the official added. The development comes following Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari's calculation which placed river transportation as the most cost-effective.
The government will initially put in the capital required for constructing the infrastructure, while private players will manage the business aspect and share the revenue with the government.
"If it costs Rs.1.50 per km to transport goods by road, it costs less than Rs.1 by rail and this comes down to only Rs.0.50 when goods are transported through the inland waterways," Gadkari had told IANS earlier at a conference here.
The industry agrees, stating that inland waterways are substantially underused and such a development will help in further developing the sector.
"Inland waterways in India are substantially underused by international standards and so the government is quite right to pursue this policy direction," Julian Michael Bevis, senior director, group relations, South Asia for The Maersk Group, told IANS.
Bevis' views are corroborated by Adil Zaidi, director, government and transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young, who said that a policy in this regard with standard bidding documents will help in mitigating risks and ease regulatory issues.
"Ports are being proposed to be developed along the riverside systems across India (like Mahanadi in Odisha and Sagar Island in West Bengal). A robust policy with standard bidding documents for such ports will help in mitigating risks and ease regulatory issues," Zaidi told IANS.
India has about 14,500 km of navigable waterways which comprise rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks.
About 55 million tonnes of cargo is moved annually by inland water transport (IWT). Around 23,684,728 metric tonnes (MT) of cargo moved on the national waterways-1, 2, 3, in 2012-13.
Cargo like cement, fly ash, iron ore, coal, steel shed, tyres, galvanized steel plain sheet, stone chips, furnace oil, diesel, lube oil, pulses, aluminium block, sand, petroleum products and timber are being majorly transported by IWT.
Currently, the IWT operations are restricted to a few stretches in the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Barak, the river systems in Goa, the backwaters of Kerala, and the deltaic regions of the Krishna-Godavari rivers.
Besides organised operations by mechanised vessels, country-made boats of various capacities also operate in these rivers and canals, ferrying cargo and passengers in the unorganised sector.