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View from India: India’s coastline being tapped for sea trade

India has a 7,500km-long coastline, which will be leveraged for port-led developments and water-based transport. River ports, inland waterways and sea planes are being planned to ensure cost-effective, logistically-efficient connectivity. With this comes water management.

Power and water are key factors responsible for connectivity and this can happen through sound infrastructure.

“Contracts to the tune of 8 lakh 50,000 crore have been signed towards the shipping, ports and road infrastructure development. Water coming from the Himalayan Valley goes into the sea. Sometimes during monsoon, the Himalayan Rivers get flooded due to a surplus of water. So water planning becomes crucial. As nothing much can be done towards conserving the water from the Himalayan Rivers, the focus is on non Himalayan Rivers,” said Nitin Gadkari, union minister, ministry of shipping, road transport and highways, Government of India (GoI), speaking at the CII Industry Next Summit titled the Emerging New Growth Paradigm. CII is the short form for Confederation of Indian Industry, which is a non-government, not-for-profit, industry-led and industry-managed organization that plays a proactive role in India's development process.

A case in point is the Godavari River, which originates in the Western Ghats of Central India near Nasik in Maharashtra and enters the West Godavari district and East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.

The Godavari is one of the most-flooded rivers in South India, whereby 3,000 TMC (one thousand million cubic feet, commonly used in India in reference to the volume of water in a river) of water is going into the sea. Logically, even if half of the water is saved, it can help solve water crisis in states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

Gadkari also said he will complete the Polavaram project, a multipurpose irrigation dam being built on the river Godavari and is being constructed to improve the farmers’ yield and meet the water requirements for agricultural purposes during drought in Andhra Pradesh.

A port estimated to cost Rs 3,000 crore is being planned in Karwar, Karnataka. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are among the early states chosen for inland waterways, besides that 60 river ports have been planned in various places that dot the country’s coastline. Cruise tourism is also being encouraged in port cities. The accent is on using alternate forms of energy for keeping costs low. This explains why port cities are encouraged to harness wind power, which is available in such regions. All this is expected to open out new avenues of income.

The Sagarmala Programme, a Government of India (GoI) initiative aims to create potentially navigable waterways and strategic locations on key international maritime trade routes. This is being visualized through port-rail connectivity and port-road connectivity, along with modernisation of existing ports. Already a sum of Rs 7 lakh 50,000 crore is being spent towards this programme.

Seen holistically, the Sagarmala Project is both enabler and beneficiary of other key GoI schemes like Make in India, apart from promoting dedicated freight corridors and industrial corridors.

While sea trade is a holistic initiative, the thrust is also on promoting irrigation projects, which are required for agriculture. “When we look at the main contributors towards the gross domestic product (GDP) the breakup is as follows, 52-60 per cent comes from the service sector, the manufacturing sector attributes for about 20-22 per cent and 4-8 per cent is from agriculture,” added Gadkari.

In an effort to scale up the agriculture quotient and create avenues of employment, irrigation led projects have been sanctioned in various states. In Karnataka alone, Rs 1 lakh crore has been allocated towards 99 projects. What makes irrigation projects so crucial is that it can hold large quantities of water which can be used to irrigate drought ridden areas.

Besides water-based transport, the spotlight is also on road transport. In order to boost export-import trade, an express highway between Chennai and Bangalore has been planned. Tenders for the project, which is expected to be Rs 16,000 crore, will be thrown open later in the year.

Overall, the focus of these developmental plans is to lower the cost of logistics and this can happen if there’s last-mile connectivity. To fulfill this vision, 12 express highways have been planned to improve inter-state connectivity and give an impetus to domestic market.

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