The journey of 34 cars of Maruti Suzuki being transported in barges along river Ganga from Varanasi to Haldia, covering a distance of 1,620 kilometres in six days, would transform the way cars are transported across the country, and its real impact could be seen in the cost of logistics.
“Maruti Suzuki stands to save Rs 4,000 in logistics cost in each car transported through waterways along this route in future,” said Amitabh Verma, chairman, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).
No doubt, after Maruti Suzuki, other automobile companies like Honda Motors have shown interest in transporting their vehicles through river transport infrastructure being built from Varanasi to Haldia as part of the Jal Marg Vikas project being funded by the World Bank and implemented by IWAI.
Shipping minister Nitin Gadkari on August 12 flagged off two vessels sailing from Varanasi carrying 34 cars that will arrive at Garden Reach in Kolkata on August 18.
While the initiative is just at the pilot stage now, the real potential is significant considering that cars can be moved in much larger volumes through waterways as compared to roads.
“A typical road trailer carries six cars. In comparison, a river vessel can carry 150, at best 300 if it’s a double decker. So, a large vessel can easily replace 50 trailers on the road. Consider the benefits in terms of cost savings as well as in terms of the environment,” Amitabh said on the sidelines of a stakeholders’ conference for the project.
IWAI is currently learning from this pilot initiative and will improve its services once commercial-level movement starts.
“The trailers carrying the cars to Varanasi from its plant could not cross a bridge near Varanasi and individual cars had to be driven 10 kilometres to reach the barges. Again, we had to maneuver a Ganga festival being celebrated downstream,” IWAI chairman disclosed.
India has woken up lately to the potential of cheaper inland water transport with minuscule investments compared to funds that had gone into roadways or railways, he said.
The share of waterways in the country was just 3.6% and efforts are now on to take it over 7% by 2018.
This compares poorly with countries likely China where the share of waterways in transportation is 47% while in Korea and Japan, it is above 40%.