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Revisiting the significance of water transport
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Revisiting the significance of water transport

Cities across the globe need a reliable transport and mobility system to foster economic growth and public mobility

Post by on Saturday, May 14, 2022

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Across regions and nations, transport is a crucial sector in the socio-economic development and dynamism of life. Transport is inextricably linked to and exerts a strong influence on multiple sectors of the economy. Cheap, efficient, adequate, safe, and environmentally friendly transport services provide convenient movement of people, effective support to agricultural and industrial production, inter-and intra-country trade, regional integration, tourism, and social and administrative services that are key to national and regional development. Thus, transportation is essential to achieving the goals of poverty reduction and sustainable development. Cities across the globe need a reliable transport and mobility system to foster economic growth and public mobility. However, at the same time, surface transport is causing congestion, pollution, and accidents. It is this factor that becomes crucial for the administrations to look at implementing urban waterway transport systems, wherever feasible, for public movement and as a sustainable freight transport solution in and around cities. 

Waterways are critically important to the transportation of people and goods throughout the world. Water transport is the cheapest means of transportation not only for public movement but also for bulk goods. It enables countries to reduce transport costs for bulk imports and exports. Historically, Human dwellings and societies have often been located near water, partly because water transport is more efficient, convenient, and cheaper than overland travel. In developed nations, the complex network of connections between coastal ports, inland ports, rail, air, and truck routes forms a foundation of material economic wealth. More ever there are potential benefits in terms of cost savings, reduced pollution, and increased transport safety

If properly developed, water transport could play a vital role in unlocking the economic potential, and increasing connectivity and integration, of the areas that inherit and share the route of waterways. A bouquet  of water transport facilities, for both public movement and recreational like  Ferries, Canal Buses, Canal Boat Cruises, Water Taxis, Canal Bikes, and boat hire could add not only add charm to the areas but would also boost the economy and dilute the pressure on the surface transport.

European countries like Finland, Netherlands, and Germany have extensive waterway systems spanning thousands of kilometers. Finland, with its many lakes, has more than 8 thousand kilometers of waterways followed by Germany with nearly 7 thousand kilometers.

Major water transport cities across the world are Venice Of The Netherlands, Giethoorn, Birmingham; Venice Of The East, Alleppey, Kerela; World’s Oriental Venice, Suzhou, East China; The Venice Of The North, Bruges, Belgium; Venice Of The Alps, Annecy; France, City Of Angels, Bangkok; City Of Canals, Venice, Italy; Waterfront Wonderland, Cape Coral, Florida and Venice Of The North, Stockholm, Sweden to name a few.

In Kashmir valley, water transport could be home to a reliable and efficient inter-city as well as intra-city public and goods movement system as it is naturally blessed with an extensive network of rivers, canals, streams, and creeks.  The old city of Srinagar has a long river line snaking through the midsection of its entire length, thus having the potential of a very viable transport system for a major part of, if not the entire year. With the roads across the towns and cities all over the valley struggling to accommodate the ever-increasing vehicular congestion, water transport could provide much-needed succor with economic, environmental, and recreational benefits.

Incidentally, the valley does have a glorious legacy of efficient public and goods transport and our older generations had a good sense of the immense advantages it offered. People moved and moved their cargo via the rivers and canals across the valley including Srinagar city. The river transport was widespread and popular in Kashmir and most of the essential commodities like food grains, timber, firewood, fruit and vegetables, charcoal, and a variety of other merchandise were transported through the river transport. It may be recalled that most of the government ration stores, popularly known as ghats, were located at different points on the Jhelum bank catering to the entire population of the Srinagar city. The ghats would provide not only the food grains but also the firewood and the charcoal, all conveniently transported across through the river.

The treasured tradition of water transport began to suffer extinction over the latter half of the 70s. Once proud to have been known as the city of canals and the Venice of the east, Srinagar lost its glory as it succumbed to human greed and so-called developmental projects. Most of the waterways were filled and sealed up to pave way for modern development and infrastructure and were slowly and steadily transformed into concrete roads. A 14th-century heritage waterway of Srinagar, The Nala Mar also became the victim of an ill-conceived plan of the then state government and was mercilessly filled up, macadamized, and renamed Nala Mar Road.  As the waterways vanished, the traffic pressure on the roads kept on growing up and is now become a huge public concern. Moreover, we got a taste of the catastrophic repercussions of such shortsighted planning in the 2014 floods.

In the late nineties, as the road infrastructure began to stretch, plans of reviving the waterway transport began to resurface. The Jammu and Kashmir government initiated an ambitious water transport project on the historic Jhelum River. The project aimed to revive the centuries-old system of movement of men and materials through waterways. The project demanded the tiring task of reshaping the banks of the river and upgrading its navigability suitability across the city of Srinagar. The project failed to take off due to devastating floods in 2014, even though the trials were conducted earlier on during 2012 and beatification of the river banks had been undertaken.

In July 2017, the government re-started the project and ran trials of cruise services to promote water transport and heritage tourism. The cruise service was started jointly by the Department of Tourism, the Tourism Development Corporation, and the Divisional Administration. The project was set to give a new look and importance to the river transport both for joyriding and shifting at least some amount of traffic from roads to this environmentally friendly mode of transport. Running from Pantha chowkh from one end to Veer Chattabal to the other, a distance of nearly 7 kilometers, traveling by the sophisticated ultra-modern Bus Boat would be a new experience both for the residents as well as the visiting tourists. The month-long trials looked ambitious as the trial cruise flowed through the old city past heritage buildings, historical shrines, and ancient bridges. The trials raised hope of success of the concept so much so that the then div com said “People will be able to steer clear of road traffic snarls. The service will save commuters precious time. It can be a tourist attraction too, giving visitors a chance to see the cityscape." However, the project didn't go beyond the trials and was consigned to the file racks.

Again, last year i.e. July 2021, The Jammu and Kashmir government announced a plan to revive river transport in the Kashmir Valley. Three bus boats were brought from New Zealand to ply on river Jhelum in Srinagar and it was given to understand that a river transport facility would be soon thrown open for tourists and the public as well. The proposed cruise would start from the Lasjan area of Srinagar to the interior of downtown. The authorities had declared that the project would be thrown open a month after and would the formal revival of the water transport in Srinagar as all the three boats and the deck was declared functional and ready for takeoff. The fleets of three water buses with the carrying capacity of 40 persons including the crew were scheduled to ferry tourists as well as the general public between Batwara and Veer Chhatabal with 6 stoppage points across the city.

Somehow, something, known to the administration only, once again hindered its formal take-off and the project has not seen the light of the day as of now. The project is probably facing difficulties due to the need to ensure an adequate level of environmental protection on the one hand, and the need to ensure the development of the requisite infrastructure to support it. Such projects are often subject to political and environmental considerations and a lack of coordination among the different stakeholders which eventually delay or block their implementation.

However, there must be a scope to tackle the problems of whatever nature they are. The efforts to overcome such obstacles need to be continued and prioritized effectively. All stakeholders must contribute to the strategy implementation, even if the direct interest of some of them might be low.

(The Author is a writer and RK Columnist. He can be reached on: ahmed3s.nasir@gmail.com

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