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Nepal proposes letter of exchange to India for inland water navigation

Published Date : August 16, 2019

Kathmandu: Nepal has proposed a Letter of Exchange to India for inland water navigation from two Indian inland ports—Kalughat and Sahibgunj—up to Nepal border via Ganga, Koshi and Narayani rivers.

If India agrees to Nepal’s proposal for inland waterways from Kolkata to Nepal border, the cost of transportation and duration of travel will be significantly reduced, according to officials.

During the state visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to India in April 2018, Nepal and India had agreed to develop inland waterways for movement of cargo, within the framework of trade and transit arrangements, providing riverine access to sea for Nepal.

According to the officials, during the upcoming visit of S Jaishankar, external affairs minister of India, on August 21, Nepal will formally propose the issue along with other three trade and transit related letters of exchange to India.

Apart from the letter of exchange on development of inland waterways, the Ministry of Industry and Supplies has proposed signing of other four letters of exchange to India, including use of Dhamra port in Odisha and Mundra port in Gujarat.

Speaking at a function on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that efforts are underway to develop inland waterways in the Narayani river within 2020. “Then we can develop the inland waterways in the Koshi river. If we can develop inland waterways it will significantly reduce the cost and time for export and import,” said Gyawali.

After an understanding with India, officials from Nepal and India have conducted several rounds of field visits along the proposed routes for developing inland waterways and held discussions with the Indian side.

Nepal has also set up a dedicated office for the operation of cross-border waterways and the Water and Energy Secretariat has completed a study on water flow in the Koshi river and the Narayani river, which is called Gandak in India.

After the field inspection, Nepal and India have identified seven different routes to develop inland waterways from the Ganga river to Koshi and Narayani of Nepal.

One route is proposed form Kolkata-Haldiya-Sahibgunj to Marihari/Jogbini- Birtanagar.

Nepali cargos that come via Kolkata/Haldiya from third countries will bring up to Sahibgunj and will be ferried via road up to Jogbini/Biratnagr.

India has already developed inland waterways in the Ganga river and an inland port in Sahibgunj. Another route is Kolkata/Haldia‐Sahibgunj via Koshi River and Sahibgunj, Bhagalpur‐Jogbari, Biratnagar through the road.

The third route is Kolkata/Haldia‐Kalughat via Koshi river and Kalughat-Raxaul, Biratnagar through the road. Similarly, the fourth proposed route is Kolkata/Haldia‐Sahibgunj waterways via Koshi River and Sahibjung‐Marihari to Paanitanki, Kakarbhitta through overland route.

The fifth one is Kolkata/Haldia‐Varanasi waterways via Narayani River and Varanasi to Sunauli/Bhairawa through overland route. The sixth route is Kolkata/Haldia‐Kalughat to Kalughat Valmiginagar/Gandak ( Narayani) barrage through waterway. And seventh is also a waterway route that will connect Kolkata/Haldia‐Sahibgunj up to Bhimnagar/Koshi Barrage.

We have proposed some modalities for developing the waterways but there must be a joint effort, Madhav Balbase, who led several meetings and field visits from the Nepali side in the past, told the Post.

But the possibility of developing inland waterways in Karnali River has been dropped for now and some studies have shown that cargo movement from Varanasi is also not feasible so officials are focusing on developing waterways in Narayani River.

There is a possibility of developing inland waterway route in Narayani River in the first phase, a former official at the Water and Energy Secretariat, told the Post.

In the beginning, out of the seven identified routes, we have proposed some routes to develop inland waterways with India and we are waiting for India’s approval and expecting to discuss it during the upcoming fifth joint commission meeting at foreign minister level when Jaishankar arrives in Kathmandu, Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies told the Post.

Nepal had started studies on the possibilities of developing inland water navigation in 1967. India recently conducted a trial in the Ganga river and said it is possible to ferry up to 2,500 metric tonnes of cargo.

“We have yet to conduct a study on the detailed modality of the cost and other logistics for cargo movement. Developing inland facilities via Varanasi seems difficult and a lengthy process compared to the ones from Kalughat and Sahibgunj. We need more studies,” he said.

To complete the procedural things, Nepal and India also need to amend the Treaty of Transit whose process has already begun.

India is positive about developing inland waterways because we have to maintain the water level and need to build a reservoir on our side that will be a great source of irrigation for the Indian side, said the former official at the Secretariat. (By Anil Giri, The Kathmandu Post)

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