“The MV Ganga Vilas will complete her voyage (which began January 13th in Varanasi) on February 28th in Dibrugarh. We successfully completed the cruise. The ship was not stuck, nor did we have any draft or navigation problems anywhere. Many international players have now expressed an interest in conducting similar cruises,” he said.
The cruise will have covered a distance of 3,200km and will have included destinations such as Patna Sahib, Bodh Gaya, Vikramshila, Dhaka, the Sunderbans and Kaziranga National Park.
“Several global players attended a cruise conference in Mumbai, made commitments and signed letters of intent with us. We’re investigating. Coastal cruises and river cruises are some of the key growth drivers in the developed world,” said Sonowal.
The Ganga Vilas have put India (and Bangladesh) on the world map for river cruising, opening “new horizons and verticals” for tourism and freight transport, the minister said.
“Continuous monitoring and maintenance of the draft is being carried out. And after the successful completion of this cruise, inland waterways will play a more important role than ever,” he said.
Several vessels are expected to commence operations along the National Waterways – specifically on NW1 (1,620 km Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system between Haldia and Prayagraj) and NW2 (891 km Brahmaputra river between Sadiya and the Bangladesh border). These waterways also provide hinterland connections in Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, connecting them to the seaports of Kolkata and Haldia via the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has also completed many infrastructure development projects, fairways, terminals and navigational aids in the North East, some of which are in progress. “The Jalmarg Vikas projects along the Ganges and the Brahmaputra have contributed to infrastructure development…investments in the national waterways are expected to be close to 7,000 crore,” Sonowal said.
According to a 2017 internal IWAI study, nearly 49 million tons of cargo are moved in and out of the Northeast and 30 tons of cargo within the region each year.