NTPC banks on Ganga waterways to transport coal for Farakka plant

In the first major effort to tap 16,000 km of inland waterways in the country, India’s power major NTPC will utilise river Ganga to move imported coal from Indonesia in barges from a port in West Bengal to its power plant at Farakka.

“A contract has been signed (recently) for movement of coal from ships in Sandheads in high seas off West Bengal to Farakka by barges,” shipping secretary Mohandas told Financial Chronicle in an interview.

NTPC has signed a pact with Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and Jindal ITF for transporta

tion of imported coal from ports to the power major's 2,100-MW Farakka station in West Bengal, using the inland waterways Initial estimate suggests that 3 million tonne coal will be moved along this waterway, he said. NTPC is importing coal from Indonesia for its thermal plants.This is part of the linkage between shipping and inland waterways, he said, adding soon liquid bulk cargo could also be moved along the route to save on costs. Waterways are many times cheaper for movement of bulk cargo than rail or roads.

The move is expected to help NTPC improve margins in the long run as inland waterways are among the most cost efficient modes for transporting bulk cargo. “Considering the current constraints of the Indian port sector, this project is bound to bring paradigm shift in import of dry bulk cargo,“ a statement from NTPC said.

The project entails operation of vessels along national waterwayI, connecting Haldia and Allahabad, and will promote use of inland waterways, the statement said, adding the need for the new mode of coal transportation was felt due to the insufficient railway infrastructure, including rakes, to ferry fuel from ports to the power stations.

NTPC and IWAI had signed an agreement in September 2008 to derive a costeffective coal transportation mechanism to three coalstarved power stations, including Farakka in West Bengal and Kahalgaon in Bihar. Jindal ITF, the infrastructure arm of Jindal SAW Ltd., has been selected as an operator by NTPC and IWAI through an international competitive bidding process.

But navigability might be problem on the river at times and hence the barges may carry only half of its full capacity of 3000 tonne which may push up the costs of transportation slightly. India has nearly 16,000 km of inland waterways of which about 5,000 km are navigable by large barges. In practice only 2000 km are utilized and managed by Inland Waterways Authority of India which was established in 1986. About 5,200 km of river and 485 km of canals can be used by mechanized crafts but the country has so far not made significant development in freight transportation by waterways, as compared to other developed countries like USA, China and Europe.

There are three inland waterways having the sta tus of National Waterways--NW-1, 1620 km stretch from Allahabad to Haldia on Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hoogly, NW-2, 891 km stretch from Sadiya to Dhubri on the Brahmaputra river in Assam and NW3 168 km stretch from Kottapuram to Kollam in Kerala known as west coast canal along with Champakara canal, 923 km and udyogmandal canal, 14 km.

Mohandas said there is some local traffic in national waterway -2 on the river Brahmaputra. “But with a stable arrangement with Bangladesh, it is possible to have a movement of cargo to the north east (through inland waterways).“

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