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PM Modi shows intent to develop northeast by unveiling Pandu port expansion

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah at a public function in Shillong, (Image courtesy: PIB)

Keeping up with his government’s promise to promote inland waterways as a supplementary mode of transport, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to inaugurate some major projects for Assam and the Northeast on Friday, including the foundation stone laying of a ship repair facility at Pandu in Guwahati.

Pandu port on Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river is the most significant location on National Waterways-2 (NW 2), serving as a major terminal-cum-transit point for the goods and cargo destined for India’s North Eastern Region.

Connected to Kolkata via the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route (IBPR), it has been developed as a multi-modal inland terminal with permanent RCC jetties, a broad-gauge railway siding and road connectivity with NW-31 (Dhansiri/Chathe river).

On Friday, PM Modi will inaugurate the Maritime Skill Centre for Northeast followed by a virtual unveiling of the foundation stones for the ship repair facility at Pandu and an elevated road connecting the Multi-Modal terminal with National Highway 27 in Guwahati.

As vessels in the North Eastern Region are currently taken to Kolkata through Bangladesh for dry dock repair – a journey that takes over a month – the establishment of a ship repair facility at Pandu at a cost of Rs 72.6 crore is being considered as one of the most important components of the project.

The Pandu Ship Repair Facility (Image courtesy: Inland Waterways Authority of India)

“The ship repair facility at the Pandu terminal will save time and money. It will cater the repair of vessels of IWT, Govt. of Assam, IWAI, the Indian Army, and other private operators plying in NW-2 and 16. The dedicated road connecting the Pandu terminal with the NH 27 will enable 24-hour smooth and swift connectivity making a sound business proposition for cargo operators,” says Ports, Shipping and Waterways Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

The facility – also referred to as ‘Slipway’ – is being developed on 3.67 acres of land provided by the Assam government.

The Maritime Skill Centre for Northeast will be instrumental in honing the rich talent pool and acquiring much-valued skill sets by the candidates for better employment opportunities in the bourgeoning logistics industry.

The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), which has constructed a broad gauge railway siding connecting Pandu port to Kamakhya railway station in Guwahati, is already in an agreement with the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) for the movement of cargo by a third party.

PM Modi, who has in the past lamented that not much work related to connectivity on the Brahmaputra has been done earlier, is leading the effort to make Assam and the North East the hub of India’s cultural and business relations with other East Asian countries.

Developing waterway connectivity is further amplification of India’s ‘Act East’ Policy which focuses on New Delhi’s outreach towards its eastern maritime neighbours, especially the 10-nation ASEAN (Map courtesy: IWAI)

Fast-tracking projects to reduce the distances geographically have ultimately resulted in the physical and cultural integrity of the whole region. The push will not only boost trade activity between the South Asian countries but also open doors to the geostrategic Southeast Asian waters.

A comprehensive package to develop Brahmaputra (NW 2) has now been enhanced to Rs 474 crore as well as an enhanced package of Rs 148 crore earmarked for the development of Barak river (NW 16) recently.

Studies have proven that the transport capacity of Inland Water Transport (IWT) is high and the costs relatively low, especially for bulk transport over long distances. Thus, the government intends to develop 111 inland waterways on an immediate and long terms basis to bring back its lost glory.

The 2030 Maritime India Vision lists operationalising 23 waterways by enhancing the infrastructure of the terminal and allied infrastructure, fairway development, navigational aids, etc.

As many as 19 of these 111 NWs provide hinterland connectivity to the states of Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. They also connect these states with mainland India through IBPR.

Spotlighting the success of the rejuvenated waterways as an alternative conduit of logistics, the government has stated that cargo movement via the Bangladesh route has increased from 2.00 MT in 2014-15 to 5.43 MT in 2021-22.

The growth of traffic and multi-modal connectivity through the Eastern Waterway Transport Grid is also expected to bolster regional connectivity with other neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Also Read: India’s Act East policy takes wings with water connectivity with neighbours as focus