Ahamed Hassan speaks on National Waterways Bill, 2015

Sir, I thank you for allowing me to speak on the National Waterways Bill, 2015. As we all know, waterways in India have immense potential. Our civilization itself is connected with rivers.

World mein hamere Hindustan ki pahchan nadi se juri huyi hai. Viswa mein Bharat ke ek pehchan yeh hai is desh mein Ganga bahti hai.

Sir, the hon. Chief Minister of my State, West Bengal, Sushree Mamta Banerjiee, has always encouraged the development and the proper use of waterways in our country as well as in our State. It is evident from the statistics that China uses its waterways for 47 per cent of its total transportation, European Union-44 per cent, and even in our neighbouring country Bangladesh, 35 per cent of transportation is done through waterways, while in India, only 3 per cent of total transportation is carried out through waterways. So, we in Trinamool Congress, agree that we have to develop our national waterways to reap the benefits of the modern trade and transportation. But, at the same time, I must say that in the process, we have to address some serious concerns of the States. The Bill has not addressed the roles and the rights of the States or prepared any mechanism to solve or defuse the probable differences between the States and the Union. In the Bill, there are only three lines on this important matter. It stated without elaborating any guidelines or giving any plan for required structure or how to sort out differences, if any, between the Union and the States. There is no modality in the Bill for addressing the problem, if it crops up. In the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, it is merely said; “The enactment of the proposed legislation will in no way impinge on the rights of the State Governments for usage of water, ownership of appurtenant land, minerals, metals, sand etc., rather will usher in development of transportation and tourism in the States. In our view, there should be adequate representation of the concerned States in the nodal agency of waterways which is called ‘Inland Waterways Authority of India’. It is having its headquarters in Delhi. It is the opinion of many experts that the agency should have revamped as it is not running in a professional or proper way.

Our party, Trinamool Congress, feels that care and caution should be followed while implementing the projects after the enactment of the proposed legislation. It should, in no way, impinge the rights of State Governments for usages of water, taking up of additional irrigation projects, ownership of land, mineral, sand etc.

Another recommendation which our Party, Trinamool Congress, endorses is that a State level Water Management Committee, with representation from the State, should be formed to oversee the development of national waterways and resolve the issues at the State level itself. We in West Bengal are really concerned with these issues because as many as 12 rivers and waterways which have been identified for national waterways are from our State. I would like to mention a few, Allahabad-Haldia Stretch of the Ganga Bhagirathi-Hooghly river, Ajoy river, Damodar river, Jalangi river and Sunderbans Waterways.

Sunderbans Waterways, if it is taken up for development on a priority basis, will not only boost the eco-tourism in this magnificent area, but will usher in multi-pronged development of the area also. Tourists will see here famous Royal Bengal Tigers in the forest, Mangroves and crocodiles in the river.

But I will mention here that there are concerns of pollution in the rivers when large vessels and barges, etc., will pass through its water. The Government have to take care of that problem. Some fishermen forums also expressed their anxiety that their traditional occupation may face danger because eco-system of the river may suffer in the process. The Government will also have to look into their concerns, that is, fishermen.

Finally, I will say a few words on the financial implication. The hon. Minister, Shri Nitin Gadkari has said in the Press that the development of the proposed waterways will require Rs. 5 lakh crores. So, how the hon. Minister will procure these large sums of money, he should give us some hints or some indications. A few newspapers quoted the Minister saying that 26 per cent of the financial stakes would have to be borne by the States. I don’t know whether this proposal or the idea has been discussed with the concerned States.

In the end, I will say, we support the National Waterways Bill, 2015 for the bright future and the larger interest of the country.