A historical trade route that became redundant years ago, was resuscitated today as the Union Minister of Port and Shipping, Sarbananda Sonowal flagged off a vessel with a shipment of finished Tata steel products from Kolkata Port’s Haldia Dock Complex(HDC), destined for the Pandu Terminal in Assam via Indo Bangladesh Protocol Route.
Till 1965, tea used to originate from Assam via waterways to tea transit sheds and jetties of Kolkata Port and was exported from here. Today, a consignment of 1798 MT finished steel products left Haldia dock of Syama Prasad Mookherjee Port in barges ‘DB Abdul Kalam’ and ‘DB Kalpana Chawla’ and would reach Pandu terminal in Guwahati through the Indo–Bangladesh Protocol Route(IBPR).
The Kolkata Port chairman, Vinit Kumar said that in its return journey, the barges will bring coal to Kolkata Port. The Union Minister of Port, Mr Sonowal said this was a dream that was turned into reality through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Gati Shakti’ programme. He said this maiden voyage showcases multi modal movement of cargo by harnessing the power of both river and sea. This route utilises both National Waterways 1 and 2 since it starts from Ganga and then via Bangladesh, enters the Brahmaputra in its North Eastern leg of the journey.
Additionally, the Kolkata Port also signed an MoU with BPCL, a central government public sector enterprise, for developing logistics chain for movement of feed stock like naptha, propane etc. from HDC through rail / coastal shipping. In return, the finished products and by products are to be routed for distribution. To aid this, tankage facilities for storing imported feed stock may be set up at HDC.
The chairman of Inland Waterways Authority of India, Sanjay Bandopadhyay, said that the IWAI has a target of 200 million tonne cargo movement through the waterways and for which meetings are being held with shipbuilders for better designs to meet the requirements. He also pointed out there are certain hiccups in this plan due to low draft and for which a dredging plan is under consideration.
Commenting on the low draft issues existing in pockets of the NW2(Brahmaputra) that is vital for North East, the Shipping minister, Mr Sonowal accepted the problem and said that with the increase in vessel operations, such spots will be identified and dredged for better depths. He also added that once the trade flow increases on the waterways, the Indian government will urge banks to lend soft loans to barge operators to increase their fleet.