Revisiting the importance of water transport

In all regions and nations, transport is a crucial sector in socio-economic development and the dynamism of life. Transport is inextricably linked 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 for agricultural and industrial production, inter and intra-country trade, regional integration, tourism and social and administrative services that are essential to national development. and regional development. Thus, transport is essential to achieve the goals of poverty reduction and sustainable development. Cities around the world need a reliable transportation and mobility system to support economic growth and public mobility. However, at the same time, surface transport causes congestion, pollution and accidents. It is this factor that becomes crucial for administrations to consider implementing, where possible, urban river transport systems for public travel and as a sustainable solution for transporting goods in and around cities.

Waterways are of crucial importance for the transport of people and goods around the world. Water transport is the cheapest means of transport not only for public transport but also for bulk goods. It allows countries to reduce transportation costs for bulk imports and exports. Historically, human habitation and societies have often been located near water, in part because water transportation is more efficient, convenient, and cheaper than travel by land. In developed countries, the complex network of connections between coastal ports, inland ports, rail, air and road routes forms the basis of material economic wealth. More than 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 economic potential and increasing the connectivity and integration of areas that inherit and share the route of waterways. A bouquet water transport facilities, both for public and recreational travel Ferries, canal buses, canal boat cruises, water taxis, canal bikes and boat rentals could not only add charm to the areas but also boost the economy and dilute the pressure on surface transport.

European countries like Finland, the Netherlands and Germany have extensive waterway systems stretching thousands of kilometers. Finland, with its many lakes, has more than 8,000 kilometers of waterways, followed by Germany with nearly 7,000 kilometers.

The main water transport cities around the world are Venice of the Netherlands, Giethoorn, Birmingham; Venice of the East, Alleppey, Kerela; Eastern Venice of the World, Suzhou, Eastern 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 the valley of Kashmir, water transport could house a reliable and efficient inter-city and intra-city public and freight transport system, as it is naturally endowed with an extensive network of rivers, canals, streams and streams. The old town of Srinagar has a long river line that meanders through the middle section for its entire length, thus having the potential of a very viable transport system for much if not the whole year. As roads through towns and cities across the valley struggle to cope with ever-increasing automobile congestion, water transport could provide much-needed relief with economic, environmental and recreational benefits.

Incidentally, the valley has a glorious heritage of efficient public and freight transport and our older generations had a good idea of ​​the immense benefits it offered. People moved and moved their cargo via rivers and canals through the valley including the city of Srinagar. River transport was widespread and popular in Kashmir and most essentials like food grains, timber, firewood, fruits and vegetables, charcoal and a variety of other goods were transported by river transport . It should be recalled that most of the government ration stores commonly known as ghats were located at various points along the Jhelum riverbank and served the entire population of Srinagar city. The ghats would provide not only the food grain, but also firewood and charcoal, all conveniently transported across the river.

The treasured tradition of water transport began to fade away during the second half of the 1970s. Once proudly known as the city of canals and the Venice of the east, Srinagar lost its glory by succumbing to the human greed and so-called development projects. Most of the waterways were filled in and sealed off to pave the way for modern development and infrastructure and were slowly and steadily turned into concrete roads. A 14andA past century heritage waterway of Srinagar, the Nala Mar also fell victim to an ill-conceived plan by the then state government and was ruthlessly filled in, macadamized and renamed Nala Mar Road. As the waterways have disappeared, the traffic pressure on the roads has steadily increased and has now become a huge public concern. Moreover, we got a taste of the catastrophic repercussions of such short-sighted planning during the floods of 2014.

In the late 1990s, as the road infrastructure began to stretch, plans to revive river transport began to resurface. The government of Jammu and Kashmir has launched an ambitious water transport project on the historic Jhelum River. The project aimed to revive the centuries-old system of movement of people and materials by waterway. The project demanded the tiring task of reshaping the banks of the river and improving its navigability through the city of Srinagar. The project could not take off due to the devastating floods of 2014, even though the trials were conducted earlier in 2012 and the beatification of the river banks had been undertaken.

In July 2017, the government relaunched the project and conducted trial cruise services to promote water transport and heritage tourism. The cruise service was launched jointly by the Department of Tourism, the Tourism Development Corporation and the Divisional Administration. The project aimed to give a new look and importance to river transport, both for car rides and to shift at least some traffic from the roads to this environmentally friendly mode of transport. Running Pantha chowkh from one end of Veer Chattabal to the other, a distance of nearly 7 kilometers, traveling by sophisticated ultra-modern water bus would be a new experience for both residents and visiting tourists. The month-long trials seemed ambitious as the trial cruise cruised through the Old City past heritage buildings, historic shrines and ancient bridges. The trials raised hopes of the concept’s success so much that the then div com said, “People will be able to avoid traffic jams on the road. The service will save valuable time for commuters. It can also be a tourist attraction, giving visitors a chance to see the cityscape.” However, the project did not go beyond trials and was relegated to the shelves.

Again, last year i.e. July 2021, the government of Jammu and Kashmir announced a plan to revive river transport in the Kashmir valley. Three waterbuses have been brought from New Zealand to navigate the Jhelum River in Srinagar and it has been understood that a river transport facility will soon be open for tourists and the public as well. The proposed cruise would depart from the Lasjan district of Srinagar to the inner city center. Authorities had said the project would be opened a month later and the official resumption of water transport in Srinagar, with the three boats and the bridge declared functional and ready for take-off. The fleets of three waterbuses with a capacity of 40 people including crew were to transport tourists as well as the general public between Batwara and Veer Chhatabal with 6 stopping points across the city.

Somehow something, known only to the administration, has once again impeded its formal take off and the project has yet to see the light of day. The project is likely to face challenges 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 necessary infrastructure to support it. Such projects are often subject to political and environmental considerations and a lack of coordination between the different stakeholders that end up delaying or blocking their implementation.

However, there must be leeway to tackle problems of whatever nature. Efforts to overcome these obstacles must be pursued and prioritized effectively. All stakeholders should contribute to the implementation of the strategy, even if the direct interest of some of them may be weak.

(The author is an RK writer and columnist. He can be reached at: ahmed3s.nasir@gmail.com