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Making Transboundary Inland Navigation Inclusive for Small Boat Operators

Author : Oxfam India

Date : 01/09/2021 - 14/09/2021

How can an Inland Navigation Program address context-specific development needs and issues while increasing opportunities including transboundary trade opportunities for small boat operators?

India, Bhutan and Bangladesh have had a flourishing trade relation alongside having a shared history, culture and traditions. Currently, the lion’s share of this trade is carried out through road networks. Between India and Bangladesh, there is, however, a fair percentage of trade that is carried out through inland waterways. The two countries first entered into a Trade Agreement in 1972 under which the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) was signed for using waterways for inter-country as well as transit trade.

In the current scenario, with India’s Act East Policy and regional cooperation, the North East of India is being developed as a gateway to South-East Asia. Economic opportunities for riparian communities in the Brahmaputra basin can be further nurtured with effective regional cooperation on navigation and trade. Opening of waterways for cross border and transit trade enables the participation of local players including small boat operators, small scale traders, producer communities including women, particularly in the international border areas. However, the existing work on developing an Inland Waterways Program has been largely focussed on barge movements, seaplanes, luxury cruises and the development of freight villages. Such projects also go on to incur a very high environmental cost with far-reaching negative impacts. These developments, more often than not, also come at the cost of communities that are dependent on these rivers for their livelihoods. It has been observed that the existing policies around inland navigation are not enabling small boat operators from the local communities. Although there are projects aimed at accommodating the needs of the local communities, they seem much smaller against the larger interventions that have been planned. As the recent diplomatic ties promise to foster cooperation to optimize development outcomes, it is extremely important to direct the efforts towards a paradigm of shared benefits.

In view of the above, how do small boat operators from local communities become an active part of the inland waterways to further their livelihoods security and be a part in extending transboundary trade opportunities? What changes are needed in policy, laws, regulations, practices, and in particular to the inland waterways program to facilitate this? What are the initiatives that can be taken up by government and non-governmental actors towards this?

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Total Comments : 12

SS
Date : 15/09/2021 | 12:56AM

Shawahiq Siddiqui (Environmental Lawyer), New Delhi

Nearly two years back, in a TROSA workshop at Kokrajhar (Assam), I had made submissions on 'Inclusive Ferrying for Future" to argue the case of small boat owners from the legal and institutional perspective. Some of these are reitierated as follows:

1. Who has the statutory powers to mainstream small scale ferrying into national and international waterways agenda?

i)  Under the Constitution inland navigation is not exclusively with the Central Government. The Centre has the power to declare rivers, creeks etc as 'national waterways' and can control the navigational traffic with respect to only "mechanically propelled vessels" on the national waterways. (Union List Entry 24 & 30). ii) The power to regulate ferrying of "non-mechanized vessels" in the NWs is with the state government (State List Entry 13); iii) Both Centre and State have the powers to regulate mechanized vessels in the waterways not declared as national waterways (tributaries). Further, centre and state also share powers with respect to shipping and inland navigation under the concurrent list (Entry 32). Thus in effect, it is the state government that can push the cause of small boat/ferry owners and is responsible for providing adequate technical capacity and safety frameworks. Engagement with state governments is thus required to ensure that small scale ferrying gets included. 

2. Is there a legal clarity to assist states in safeguarding interest of non-mechanized ferries, for example, the ambiguity on solar powered ferries?

Since ferrying/small boats is with states, there is no central legislation on the subject. The existing legislation are Bengal Ferries Act, 1885, Northern India Ferries Act, 1878-Assam Ferries Rules, 1968, Bombay Inland Ferries Vessels Act, 1886 and simialr state/provincial laws in the south indian states. Collectively, these laws provide a good template for small scale ferrying but do not define 'Ferry". There is thus a need for a comprehensive and technically inclusive defintion of ferry to be adopted by the states such as Assam. Simialry Private Ferry, Public Ferry and Ferry Franchise needs clear articulation in law for securing livelihoods.

3. Legal Overlap in Ferry Vs Vessel (the Case of Assam): The Northern India Ferries Act, 1878 read with Ferries Management Rules, 1968 define powers of the state with respect to ferries. The newly enacted Assam Inland Water Transport Authority Act, 2018 defines Ferry to be a "Vessel". Vessel is not dfeined further in this law. But is defined under the Inland Vessels Act, 1917 Act to be only a mechanically propelled vessel. This is even exclusionary for the states. Thus for example Assam has no business on NWs with respect to Ferries by this defintion. There is thus a need to actively pursue the new Inland Vessels Act and seek appropriate amendments in the definition. 

4. Where are Ferry Safety Regulations? and what level?

5. Are River Ports and Ghat Development is not covered under the EIA? Ghats are also with the Panchayats - for example in Assam, AIWTA 2018 does not recognize that.

6. Accidental liability - "Rule of the Road" - Third Party Insurance?

7. Revenue sharing with local bodies and Autonomous District Councils in the North East?

8. Impact on river ecosystems, fisheries, habitats, river communities?

SS
Date : 15/09/2021 | 12:41AM

Shawahiq Siddiqui (Environmental Lawyer), New Delhi

Nearly two years back, in a TROSA workshop at Kokrajhar (Assam), I had made submissions on 'Inclusive Ferrying for Future" to argue the case of small boat owners from the legal and institutional perspective. Some of these are reitierated as follows:

1. Who has the statutory powers to mainstream small scale ferrying into national and international waterways agenda?

i)  Under the Constitution inland navigation is not exclusively with the Central Government. The Centre has the power to declare rivers, creeks etc as 'national waterways' and can control the navigational traffic with respect to only "mechanically propelled vessels" on the national waterways. (Union List Entry 24 & 30). ii) The power to regulate ferrying of "non-mechanized vessels" in the NWs is with the state government (State List Entry 13); iii) Both Centre and State have the powers to regulate mechanized vessels in the waterways not declared as national waterways (tributaries). Further, centre and state also share powers with respect to shipping and inland navigation under the concurrent list (Entry 32). Thus in effect, it is the state government that can push the cause of small boat/ferry owners and is responsible for providing adequate technical capacity and safety frameworks. Engagement with state governments is thus required to ensure that small scale ferrying gets included. 

2. Is there a legal clarity to assist states in safeguarding interest of non-mechanized ferries, for example, the ambiguity on solar powered ferries?

Since ferrying/small boats is with states, there is no central legislation on the subject. The existing legislation are Bengal Ferries Act, 1885, Northern India Ferries Act, 1878-Assam Ferries Rules, 1968, Bombay Inland Ferries Vessels Act, 1886 and simialr state/provincial laws in the south indian states. Collectively, these laws provide a good template for small scale ferrying but do not define 'Ferry". There is thus a need for a comprehensive and technically inclusive defintion of ferry to be adopted by the states such as Assam. Simialry Private Ferry, Public Ferry and Ferry Franchise needs clear articulation in law for securing livelihoods.

3. Legal Overlap in Ferry Vs Vessel (the Case of Assam): The Northern India Ferries Act, 1878 read with Ferries Management Rules, 1968 define powers of the state with respect to ferries. The newly enacted Assam Inland Water Transport Authority Act, 2018 defines Ferry to be a "Vessel". Vessel is not dfeined further in this law. But is defined under the Inland Vessels Act, 1917 Act to be only a mechanically propelled vessel. This is even exclusionary for the states. Thus for example Assam has no business on NWs with respect to Ferries by this defintion. There is thus a need to actively pursue the new Inland Vessels Act and seek appropriate amendments in the definition. 

4. Where are Ferry Safety Regulations? and what level?

5. Are River Ports and Ghat Development is not covered under the EIA? Ghats are also with the Panchayats - for example in Assam, AIWTA 2018 does not recognize that.

6. Accidental liability - "Rule of the Road" - Third Party Insurance?

7. Revenue sharing with local bodies and Autonomous District Councils in the North East?

8. Impact on river ecosystems, fisheries, habitats, river communities?

VN
Date : 14/09/2021 | 8:53PM

A simple solution of inclusive governance is: Give veto power and considerable authority to local Panchayat or similar locally elected bodies to have a say in rules and regulation and monitoring and sanctioning, IN THIER OWN RIVER STRETCHED. This will include several local bodies, who can monitor the progress or any ill practises happening. A single farmer or fisherman or boat owner cannot handle powerful adversaries, which often emerge when investments or profit making opportunity arise in ill-informed India village regions.

Apart from small boat owners and trader, it has to see that productive fishery zones, a livelihood source for small fish farmers or any other commodity from river or riverine lands, are not underseen and destroyed from the new trade routes and activities it will bring forth.

Small boat owners or any other emerging water way traders should use non-polluting technology or less polluting tech, for thier plying. Regulations need to be set with a major complaince authority lying with all local institutions.

Only and only decentralised power can aid effective and less corrupt monitoring. Thier involvement is crucial, even if partial.Avoidance of any illegal activity like capture and smuggle of quatic fauna should be considered - IDEA making several checkpoint with involvment of local institutions.

Freight villages, with complete and community owned eco-tourism like development could be helpful. It will generate revenues for communities involved (especially commuities with traditional art or knowledge). So promotion of art and tradition and culture and enhancing connection with rivers (of tourist) shouls be the only motive and basis for this tourism development activity. It should be least polluting and disturbing to aquatic fauna and flora.

Open and liberal access of tranboundary communities to develop markets and exchange commodities only for small traders should be promoted. However, numbers of traders or user of river as transport should be limited by a quota as decided by research study, about its impact on river ecosystem. To give chance to all, rotation of trading pass sound like good option based on some impartial and equitable and transparent criteria.

Thank you.

SD
Date : 11/09/2021 | 11:29AM

This post is made keeping in mind both, the transboundary as well the entire (within country) waterways program:

Two recent developments highlight how the Inland Waterways program has got it priorities totally wrong, and why it needs to be restructured to focus on the smaller vessels, and needs of small traders, local commerce, local communities, and fisherpeople.

On 31 Aug 2021, the web portal InExtLive reported that the Varanasi multi modal terminal on the Ganga built at a huge cost of several hundred crore rupees has seen zero traffic in the last six months. The last ship to use the terminal was in February 2021. This is not an aberration. According to the information obtained by us (Manthan) under RTI, in the 14 months from Nov 2018, when it was inaugurated by the Prime Minister, till  Jan 2020, total cargo handled at the terminal was 281 tons. It was planned to handle 3.55 million tons by 2020.

Instead, if such investment are made to help develop transport by smaller vessels, including providing subsidies for safety and efficiency boosting measures for small vessels, this will help address the immediate needs of the people which are not being met properly.

Among the most urgent needs to support the development of traffic by small vessels is to bring in measures for safety of small vessels. The recent terrible tragedy at Nimatighat on the Brahmaputra highlights the absence of such safety mechanisms for small vessels.

These include measures like equipment and training  at the vessel and crew level, as well as broader systemic measures like River information Systems. While IWAI is developing the River Information System and other measures, these, like the entire waterways program seem to be focussed on the needs of the big barges and corporate users.  This focus and priority needs to change.

VV
Date : 09/09/2021 | 11:15AM

Considering the navigability challenges in the upper stretches of the India Bangladesh Protocol Routes, short-haul trade using small boats seems to be a viable option. To operationalise the cross-border movement of small boats within the ambit of the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), certain regulatory challenges need to be addressed. These include registration and certification of boats, customs notification for tradable commodities, setting up quarantine facilities at terminal etc. Low volume of production and non-availability of vessels of suitable size are other bottlenecks. To tackle this issue, CUTS International in its study has proposed to have lockable chambers of varying capacities in a single boat so as to carry multiple commodities of different quantities. Given the fact that there are lots of misconceptions among local communities and traders regarding the designated ports, the commodities, specifications of boats, the procedures to be followed etc, awareness generation of the small traders, businessmen, farmers and the marginal communities is crucial for wider acceptance of inland water transport and its utilisation. An in-depth cost-benefit analysis of inland water transport vis a vis conventional rail/road transport needs to be undertaken to convince the private sector.

RS
Date : 09/09/2021 | 10:46AM

Hi, this is Rajan Subedi, River Basin Manager from Nepal.

It is important to understand that Nepal does not have Inland river network however boat is used in the river as means of transportation or tourism purpose.  The government of Nepal has prioritized the Inland Navigation project in coordination with India. It also indicates that the need for Inland water transportation because of its high social-economic value. I regard that if the river transportation is connected, it supports vulnerable communities to enhance their livelihood. I would like to give an example from Mahakali river where Oxfam and its partners took leadership to establish rafting in Mahakali River. Rafting has been possible in the transboundary river with the effort of multi-stakeholders. The private sectors are interested to do more investment in developing hotels increasing economic activities in the river basin communities. In this regard, I would say coordination, collaboration among various stakeholders contributes to the sustainability of water navigation which contributes to the overall development of the country and beyond. Thanks

The initiative is supported by Oxfam India under Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA 2017 -2021) program. TROSA is a regional water governance program supporting poverty reduction initiatives in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) and Salween basins.The program is implemented in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanamar and is supported by the Government of Sweden.
Views expressed in this website are those of the individual contributors and network members and do not represent that of Oxfam, its implementing partners or Government of Sweden.