Assam has the largest network of navigable waterways in India. Assam’s ferry services are integral to the lives of the people living in the Brahmaputra Valley. It gives them connectivity, mobility and livelihoods.
To modernise the ferry sector that is largely informal in the state, Rs 630 crore loan has been signed for Assam Inland Water Transport Project (AIWTP) between the Centre, Assam Government and the World Bank.
Over 104 ferry routes of the state cross the Brahmaputra or serve its islands, providing a crucial means of transport to thousands of commuters in both the urban and rural areas of the Brahmaputra Valley.
Under the AIWTP, the infrastructure of passenger ferry services will be improved and the capacity of institutions running the inland water transport strengthened.
Experts said better-designed terminals and energy-efficient vessels will make the ferry services more sustainable with least disruption to nature. Of the total project cost of Rs 770 crore, the World Bank will provide Rs 630 crore.
With better navigation aid, appropriate safety gear and more suitable marine engines, the ferry services are expected to get more reliable and safer. The project will also help build modern ferry terminals.
However, the onus now lies with the Assam government to implement the project in letter and spirit. The Barak Valley also needs to be improved along with the ones in the Brahmaputra Valley.
The development of the waterways in both Brahmaputra and Barak valleys will be a major boost to the shipping, navigation and transportation of cargo.
A safe and modern ferry service is the need of the hour as the state has witnessed several fatal country boat capsize incidents in the past.
A quarter of all ferry passengers in the state are women. The ferry terminals must have facilities like toilets, drinking water and waiting area.
A modernised ferry service will ensure safe and efficient journey both for the passengers and cargo carried by the vessels. It will also lead to low-carbon emission and help in combating pollution.