The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021

Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways


Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the Inland Vessels Bill, 2021, which will replace the Inland Vessels Act, 1917 after passing in Parliament.

  • The Bill will regulate safety, security and registration of inland vessels.

About The Inland Vessels Bill:

  • The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 22, 2021.
  • It replaces the Inland Vessels Act, 1917.  
  • The Act provides for the regulation of inland vessel navigation by states including the registration of vessels, and safe carriage of goods and passengers.  
  • The Bill seeks to introduce a uniform regulatory framework for inland vessel navigation across the country.

Key feature of the bill:

  • Mechanically propelled inland vessels: The Bill defines such vessels to include ships, boats, sailing vessels, container vessels, and ferries.  The central government will prescribe the:
    • classification,
    • standards of design, construction, and crew accommodation, and
    • type and periodicity of surveys, for these vessels.

 Construction or modification of such vessels will require prior approval of a designated authority, as prescribed by the central government.  

  • Operation:  To operate in inland waters, all such vessels must have a certificate of survey, and a certificate of registration.  Vessels with Indian ownership must be registered with the Registrar of Inland Vessels (appointed by the state government).  The registration certificate will be valid across the country.  The certificate of survey will be granted by state governments, in a form as prescribed by the central government.  This certificate will indicate the inland water zones (areas of operation to be demarcated by states) for such vessels.  The vessels must also have an insurance policy to cover liability for death, injury, or damage caused due to the usage of the vessel (including accidental pollution).  
  • Navigation safety:  Such vessels will be required to follow certain specifications for signals and equipment to ensure navigation safety, as specified by the central government.  In case of a navigation hazard, the master of a vessel must immediately send a danger or distress signal to other such vessels in proximity and to the concerned state government.  If a vessel master abstains from rendering assistance after answering a distress call, he will be penalised with a fine of up to Rs 10,000, unless he is unable to render such assistance on certain specified grounds. 
  • Inquiry into accidents:  All accidents aboard such vessels must be reported to the head officer of the nearest police station, as well as to a state government appointed authority.  The state may require the District Magistrate to inquire into these matters and submit a report recommending actions to be taken. 
  • Manning requirements: The central government will prescribe the minimum number of people that vessels must have, for various roles.  Violating these requirements will attract a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offence, and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offences.  The central government will prescribe the standards for qualification, training, examination and grant of certificate of competency, which indicate the fitness of the recipients to serve in the specified roles.  State governments will grant these certificates.
  • Prevention of pollution: Vessels will discharge or dispose sewage, as per the standards specified by the central government.  The central government will notify the list of pollutants which will be prohibited for discharge or disposal.  State governments will grant vessels a certificate of prevention of pollution, in a form as prescribed by the central government.  
  • Database on inland vessels: The central government will maintain an electronic centralised record of data on inland vessels.  These records will include information on: (i) registration of vessels, (ii) crew and manning, and (iii) certificates issued. 
  • Development fund: The Bill provides for a development fund which will be utilised for various purposes including: (i) emergency preparedness, (ii) containment of pollution, and (iii) boosting inland water navigation.  Each state will constitute such a development fund.  Sources of contribution to the fund include: (i) schemes of state governments, (ii) stakeholders, and (iii) collections from sale of wreck or cargo.
  • Non-mechanically propelled inland vessels:  The Bill empowers state governments to delegate certain functions related to non-mechanically propelled inland vessels to their local governments.  These include collating data, and conducting advisory programmes for owners, operators, and users of such vessels.  State governments will prescribe the criteria (such as size, purpose, age, and design) for the identification and categorisation of such vessels.  

Objectives of Inland Vessels Bill, 2021

  • This Bill will promote economic and safe transportation and trade of inland waterways and bring uniformity in the application of the law
  •  It will also help in reducing the water pollution caused by these inland vessels as this bill directs the Central Government to designate a list of chemicals, substances, etc. as pollutants

Significance of Inland Vessel Bill 2021

  • Its objective is to promote Inland Water Transport (IWT) by replacing, the often-described as archaic, Inland Vessels Act 1917.
  • It will regulate safety, security and registration of inland vessels.
  • It will streamline and regulate inland vessels.
  • It envisages bringing uniformity in the application of the law relating to inland waterways and navigation within the country.
  • It aims to promote economical and safe transportation as well as trade through inland waters.
  • It seeks to provide for the safety of navigation, protection of life and cargo, and prevention of pollution that may be caused by the use or navigation of inland vessels.

Inland Waterways:

  • India has about 14,500 km of navigable waterways which comprise of rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc.
    • As per the National Waterways Act 2016, 111 waterways have been declared as National Waterways (NWs).
      • NW-1: Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly River System (Prayagraj-Haldia) with length 1620 km is the longest National Waterway in India.
      • The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is implementing the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) for capacity augmentation of navigation on the Haldia-Varanasi stretch of Ganga (part of NW-1) with the technical and financial assistance of the World Bank.

  • Freight transportation by waterways is highly under-utilised in India compared to other large countries
  • The total cargo moved (in tonne kilometres) by the inland waterway was just 0.1% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the 21% figure for the United States. 
  • Cargo transportation in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam, and Kerala.

Sl. No.NW NumberRiver SystemRouteLength (in km)LocationsEstablished
1NW – 1Ganga-Bhagirathi-HooghlyPrayagraj – Haldia1620Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal1986
2NW – 2BrahmaputraSadiya-Dhubri891Assam1988
3NW – 3West Coast Canal, Champakara Canal, and Udyogamandal CanalKottapuram – Kollam205Kerala1993
4NW – 4Krishna and GodavariKakinada–Puducherry stretch of canals, Kaluvelly Tank, Bhadrachalam – Rajahmundry, Waziraba–Vijayawada1095Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry2008
5NW – 10Amba River 45Maharashtra 
6NW – 83Rajpuri Creek 31Maharashtra 
7NW – 85Revadanda Creek – Kundalika River System 31Maharashtra 
8NW – 91Shastri river–Jaigad creek system 52Maharashtra 
9NW – 68Mandovi – Usgaon Bridge to the Arabian Sea 41Goa 
10NW – 111Zuari– Sanvordem Bridge to Marmugao Port 50Goa 
11NW – 73Narmada River 226Gujarat and Maharashtra 
12NW – 100Tapi River 436Gujarat and Maharashtra 
13NW – 97 (Sundarbans Waterways)Namkhana to AtharaBankiKhalIndo-Bangladesh Protocol Route172West Bengal 

Inland Waterways Authority of India:

  • It came into existence on 27th October 1986 for development and regulation of inland waterways for shipping and navigation.
  • It primarily undertakes projects for development and maintenance of IWT (Inland Water Transport) infrastructure on national waterways through grants received from the Ministry of Shipping.
  • It also assists States in the development of the Inland Water Transport (IWT) sector and provides a subsidy to IWT operators for acquiring a fleet for transportation of cargo and passengers
  • It is headquartered at Noida (Uttar Pradesh).

Few initiative:

  • Sagarmala Project – Cabinet approved scheme, launched in 2015 to promote port-led development in India. The project also seeks to boost infrastructure for transporting goods to and from ports quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively
  • Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) – Announced in the Union Budget of 2014, the project is implemented by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) aims to develop the National Waterways of the country. It is financially supported by the World Bank and is expected to be completed by 31st December 2023

Source: The Hindu

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