New Delhi (NVI): The World Bank today signed a USD 105 million project with the Central Government and the government of West Bengal to improve the inland water transport infrastructure in the state.
“The West Bengal Inland Water Transport, Logistics and Spatial Development project will facilitate passenger and freight movement across the Hooghly river and undertake spatial planning to improve accessibility in the Kolkata Metropolitan area,” the Ministry of Finance said in a statement.
It will also enhance the quality of life of its residents and contribute to the growth of the state’s logistics sector, it added.
The agreement was signed by CS Mohapatra on behalf of the Government of India, Rajdeep Dutta, the deputy resident commissioner, on behalf of the Government of West Bengal and Junaid Ahmad.
After signing the pact, Mohapatra said that, ” The Inland waterways are now emerging as a cost effective and an environment friendly option for passenger and freight movement,”
“This project will help improve the river transport infrastructure in West Bengal and help in the economic development of the state by connecting the hinterland with markets and job centers in Kolkata’s Metropolitan Area,” he added.
The project will cover the five most populous districts of southern West Bengal, including its urban agglomeration —the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) where around 30 million people or one-third of West Bengal’s population live.
The Hooghly river, a distributary of the river Ganga, separates the Kolkata port from its large consumption centres, which are its wholesale market and its vast hinterland comprising two landlocked neighbouring countries namely Nepal and Bhutan, the statement said.
More than 80 percent of freight and passenger traffic currently cross the river through Kolkata’s three bridges and to curtail congestion, the city has restricted the movement of trucks to the port to certain bridges and only during limited hours, reducing access to the port and increasing the cost of logistics.
West Bengal’s ferries can provide an efficient, flexible mode of public transport for both passengers and freight, saving on operating costs and travel time when compared with road journeys.
However, the development the river transport infrastructure will enable a large population of West Bengal to utilize its waterways and gave alternative, multi-modal options for transportation for both freight and passengers.
“This operation will allow the state to invest in Kolkata’s economic productivity by making its waterways and ferry services part of an efficient and safe urban mobility strategy,” said Junaid Ahmad.
“Importantly, given Kolkata’s strategic location, the project is also ensuring that the metropolitan area emerges as a transport and logistics hub for the sub-region,” he added.
During the first phase, the project will enhance the capacity and improve the safety of the Inland Water Transport system, including rehabilitating existing jetties, buying new ferries with enhanced design and installing electronic gates in 40 locations.
The second phase will support long-term investments for passenger movements, including in terminals and jetties, improve the design of the inland water transport vessels, ensure night navigation on the most hazardous and trafficked routes and crossing points, the ministry noted.
Meanwhile, the USD 105 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 17 years including a grace period of 7 years.