Bill on waterways to Barak Valley through Bangladesh

Barak River

SILCHAR, Feb 20: The statement of Union Urban Development and Parliamentary Minister, Kamal Nath, to the effect that a Bill would be introduced in the next budget session of Parliament is no doubt a positive development and augurs well for the economic development of this region. In fact, the plan to revive the pristine waterways has been hanging since 2007. This water link of the valley with Kolkata through Bangladesh will make transportation of goods regular, easy and cost effective. Since 1965 in the wake of Indo–Pak war, rail, road and waterways access through Bangladesh has remained suspended.
But, the greatest handicap in making the waterways operational, according to a study carried out by Inland Water Authority of India, is heavy siltation in river Barak. In the aftermath of the devastating floods of 2007, Water Resource Department focused on heavy siltation in the river Barak and after studying the phenomenon mooted schemes for dredging the river for desiltation and resectioning process of the river and its tributaries by deploying machinery along with ambitious mini multipurpose dredger. Inland Water Authority of India of the Ministry of Surface Transport planned to develop the waterways of Barak and Kushiara from Lakhipur in the east to Karimganj in the west point of river with the declaration of the 121 km waterway as national waterways.
Inland Water Authority of India, as records show, drew up an estimate of Rs 58 crore for the purpose including development of channels for navigation. For this the minimum required waterways is 40 metre width and 1.5 to 2.0 metre depth along with the construction of 4 terminals at Lakhipur, Badarpur, Silchar and Karimganj. In order to carry out survey and study of siltation problem in Barak and transportation of commercial goods, Central Inland Water Transport carrier MV Prafulla sailed from Kolkata to anchor at the Silchar terminal two years ago.
Captain of the ship, Samar Sarkar, said if the waterway could be made navigational round the year, it would be the best means of transportation of goods which would benefit not only Barak Valley but also Assam in general as well as north–east states.
The study and investigation have brought out the fact that at many places, the riverbed has risen alarmingly with sand, wastes and boulder deposits. With the deployment of multipurpose dredger, the problem of siltation can be overcome. It has also been suggested that regular navigation as in the past would keep siltation at the minimum level. The general opinion is that waterways between Barak Valley and Kolkata would continue towards increasing economic activities, create climate for investment and lead to overall development. It will not be out of context to mention that Sontosh Mohan Dev, former Union Minister, did tell the media–persons in 2009 that the relevant Bill would be introduced in Parliament soon. But, it has never materialized. Speaking about the Bill, he said it enjoins upon Bangladesh to take up dredging of Meghna, Padma and other connected rivers. India on its part would dredge Barak, Kushiara and Surma. National status of the
waterways is expected to make navigation round the year.
Presently, the ships carrying goods navigate for six months only that too gets impeded often due to the drying up of the river at certain stretches. Significantly, with the coming of Begum Sheikh Hasina led Awami League Government at Dhaka, a conducive atmosphere has been created for bilateral relations. Bangladesh has agreed to extend all possible help to make the waterways an effective means of transportation.
The Bill when introduced is expected to be passed without any difficulty with the support of all the 14 MPs of Assam as well as those of north–east. In the event of Barak waterways gaining national status, both India and Bangladesh would stand to benefit. Besides pacing up economic development, it will generate avenues of investment. All sorts of raw and finished goods can be transported. The round the year navigation will at the same time help in protective river vegetations and other aquatic life organisms. (Source:SentinelAssam)