Connecting India by inland waterways

Source: Indian Express 

Relevance: Infrastructure development, Inland waterways 

SynopsisRecently, Parliament passed a new law to bring uniformity in the rules and regulations governing inland waterways and navigation on them. The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 replaces the century-old Inland Vessels Act, 1917.

Issues with the 1917 Act
  • The 1917 Act was seen as a purely consolidating legislation with limited applicability and purposes. 
  • It had undergone several amendments, the last major ones in 1977 and 2007.  
  • It had provisions for restrictive movement of mechanically propelled vessels within the jurisdiction of the state government. 
  • Non-uniform standards and regulations that varied from one State to another. 

The government wants to promote inland waterways as a supplement to freight movement across India.  

Aim and objective of the bill
  • It seeks to bring all inland waterways in India and movement of vessels on them for any purpose under a central regulatory regime. 
  • It is aimed at developing India’s inland waterways as a viable, thriving mode of transport, especially for cargo. The inland waterways network spans close to 15,000 km across rivers, channels, backwaters, creeks etc. 
Key features of the Inland Vessels Bill, 2021

Registration: To operate in inland waters, vessels must have a certificate of survey, and registration.  

  • Those with Indian ownership must be registered with the Registrar of Inland Vessels. 
  • It will be valid across India.  
  • While the state government will issue the certificate, the form will be prescribed by the Centre like in the case of motor vehicles.  
  • The Bill defines mechanically propelled vessels as ships, boats, sailing vessels, container vessels, and ferries.  

Functions of the central government: 

  • It empowers the Centre to prescribe what kind of pollutants and sewage vessels and can discharge, and how much. 
  • It envisages maintaining a fund, which will be used for emergency preparedness, checking pollution and boosting navigation.  
  • The Centre will frame classification, standards of design, construction, and crew accommodation.  
  • Construction or modification will require approval of a designated authority.  
  • All such vessels are to be registered with respective states or Union Territories. Their movement and identities will be logged in a central database. 
  • The new law mandates that if any distress or SOS signal is sent out by the master of a vessel, any other vessel nearby must respond like maritime custom and rules on sea.  
  • In case of accidents, the nearest police station is to be involved for inquiry and action.  
  • Non-compliance will attract a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offence, and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offences. 

However, the Bill has been criticized on the ground that it takes away a lot of rights of the states and vests them with the Centre. 

Terms to know

Print Friendly and PDF