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Building Waterways

State government must weigh economic benefits and grave ecological concerns

THE state government has decided to construct nine new jetties under the central government’s Sagarmala project to facilitate passenger movement. The state has proposed to build new jetties by demolishing the existing Portuguese era jetties, which are in a dilapidated condition and have outlived their utility. These jetties are located on the banks of the Mandovi and Zuari rivers. While according approval to construction of new jetties, the state government has made it amply clear that they will be passenger-centric projects with no scope for movement and berthing of cargo vessels. The state government wants that jetties should not be used for cargo movement in order to avoid opposition from any quarter and facilitate smoother execution of projects. Construction of jetties and starting of water transportation will go a long way in easing pressure on state roads and preventing accidents. It will also reduce commuting time for people. Now that the decision has been taken to restart waterways the government should take it to a logical conclusion.

Sagarmala is a flagship programme of the Union shipping ministry to promote port-led development by exploiting the country’s 7,500 kilometre long coastline and 14,500 kilometre potentially navigable waterways and its strategic location on key international maritime trade routes. The programme is expected to give a great boost to the country’s emerging logistics sector. It aims at unlocking the potential of waterways and coastline to minimise infrastructural investments required to meet the targets. The state government has, however, made it clear that waterways would be developed only for passenger movement and there was no scope for cargo movement. The state government’s decision to permit only passenger transportation was taken in view of the grave ecological concerns that jetties were being constructed for cargo movement, such as transportation of coal and other commodities. According to the schedule drawn up by the government, the work on construction of new jetties with modern facilities is likely to begin by the end of the current year and is proposed to be completed in about two years.

In addition to approving the Sagarmala programme Goa became the first among states to sign a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the central government and the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) for implementation of another central government plan on nationalisation of six Goan rivers. The MoU was inked last year and the process has been set in motion for implementation of the agreement by which the Mandovi, Zuari, Chapora, Mapusa and Cumbharjua rivers would be developed as inland waterways for shipping and navigation. According to the understanding arrived at between the state and two central agencies, the National Inland Waterways Authority of India will be tasked with the development and regulation of inland waterways. Given the opposition to the project by Goans, the state government has kept the power of dredging of rivers with itself. When the proposal on nationalisation of the state’s six rivers was mooted, experts and citizen groups had cautioned the state government about the eco-sensitive and fragile waterways which have limited shipping, navigational and ecological carrying capacity. Despite their warning the government went ahead and signed the MoU.

Though the two programmes are claimed to be different they appear to be similar and there is every possibility of them overlapping one another as both are for promoting river navigation and shipping. Only the funding pattern is different. Under the Sagarmala programme the funding pattern would be 50:50 between the state and the Centre; in nationalisation of rivers the central government would totally fund the project. It remains to be seen how two similar projects would be implemented differently and put to separate uses. Since the Sagarmala programme is to be implemented on a 50:50 cost sharing basis the state would have a greater say to make it state-specific, but the same would not hold good for the projects of nationalisation of rivers. The central government could impose their writ on the state once the projects are completed. Any confrontation should best be avoided. The state government should guarantee that the interests of the state and Goan population were not compromised.

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