New Delhi: Floating flower and fruit markets, similar to the ones in Srinagar’s Dal Lake, and ferry service to transport commuters to different points within cities — this is how the Narendra Modi government is looking to make Ganga river a hub of economic activities.
In a move aimed to boost the river economy, the government is considering a shipping ministry proposal to start running community jetties for floating markets on Ganga across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, and for transportation of people within cities via the river route.
According to senior government officials, Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and his officials made a detailed presentation to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last month about the project, which is titled ‘Arth Ganga’ and is estimated to cost Rs 1,367 crore.
The PMO has given its go-ahead to the project, and the ministry is now drafting a cabinet note, said the officials, who didn’t want to be named.
Senior shipping ministry officials have also made presentations to Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and the top brass of federal think-tank NITI Aayog.
What is Arth Ganga project?
The Arth Ganga project envisages developing small community jetties to transport farmers selling flowers, vegetables, milk products and pottery to the bustling markets in big towns along the banks of Ganga in the four states mentioned above.
“It will not only reduce the logistics cost of farmers but will do away with middlemen, allowing them to directly reach the market and sell their produce,” said a government official familiar with the proposal.
For instance, the savings for a vegetable farmer transporting produce from Saidpur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur district, to Varanasi, which is 31 km away, will be around 27 per cent. The annual cost savings per farmer without a middleman “will be in the range of Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000”, the official said.
Besides, the ministry has also proposed to start ferry services connecting different points in the city, including tourist destinations. In Bihar’s Patna, for instance, the ministry proposes to start ferry service connecting different points in the city with Patna University, within a distance of 11 km.
The officials said the project is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart. He had first mentioned ‘Arth Ganga’, as a sustainable development model that focuses on economic activities related to the river, in December 2019. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also mentioned it in her Union budget for this fiscal.
There is a lot of scope in the river economy, with approximately 30 per cent of the Indian population living around the Ganges river belt. About one-fifth of India’s freight originates and one-third terminates in the four states around the Ganges belt, added the officials.
The project will be implemented by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), an agency under the shipping ministry.
An official familiar with the matter said the estimated cost of the Arth Ganga project is Rs 1,367 crore, but no additional funds from the exchequer will be required.
The project won’t be affected by the Ministry of Finance order this month that no new public-funded scheme will be approved in the current fiscal, except for Covid-19 relief measures.
The IWAI plans to use its savings to the tune of Rs 1,400 crore that it made through its Jal Marg Vikas project. “The estimated cost of the Jal Marg Vikas project was Rs 5,369 crore but the IWAI will complete it in less than Rs 4,000 crore. The additional funds left will be used for the Arth Ganga project,” the official added.
The Jal Marg Vikas project is for building multimodal terminals in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand for facilitating freight movement across Ganga.
Despite having 14,500 km of navigable waterways, the freight movement through waterways in India is just 0.5 per cent, compared to 65 per cent by road and 27 per cent by rail, said a second official.
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