On August 31, 1,233 tonne of fly ash set sail from Ganga to Brahmaputra for a 2,085 km long haul from National Thermal Power Corp's (NTPC) Kahalgaon power plant in Bihar off National Waterway 1 to Pandu in Assam meant for Star Cement's plant.
And on September 18, the two barges of 1,000-tonne capacity each reached Pandu Island port near Guwahati via the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route, completing the country's longest hauls in inland waterways movement sticking close to its 20-days travel schedule.
"This movement will evince confidence and interest in the inland waterways sector and vessel operators as more than 10 such pilot movements have been successfully completed lately on various stretches of national ways," says an official of the National Waterways Authority of India (NWAI).
"This endeavour will also establish the water highway route from Kahalgaon to Pandu in Assam via Bangladesh border helping transportation of other goods also," said an official with NTPC.
Not just fly ash, an otherwise useless by-product of power plants using coal but in high demand from cement and brick makers, all kinds of commodities from coal to cement are now being transported via inland coastal and also sea routes.
Recently, the fourth cement terminal at Cochin Port started operations with the arrival of vessel 'PennaSuraksha' carrying 25,000 tonne of cement from Krishnapatnam, which would help more cement to be transported through coastal shipping.
"This will reduce cement cost, help in rebuilding Kerala state after the floods. Cement being a high-volume, low-value product, lower-cost sea transport is very important as a game changer in logistics. And this modal shift in the transport of cement from road and rail to sea is another step towards promoting coastal shipping as cost-effective and environment-friendly means of transportation as envisaged under the Sagarmala project," said an official with Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).
Ports in the east like Krishnapatnam are set to assume greater importance with the expected rise in exports to China starting with non-basmati rice.
Even before the fly ash consignment reached Assam, the first consignment of non-basmati rice of 100 tonne set sail for China from Nagpur on September 29. The rice, meant for China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp, one of China's state-owned food processing holding companies, would reach the destination.
The pact to export rice to China is part of a deal between General Administration of Customs of China, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation and Farmers Welfare of India signed in June during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China. Following the deal, 19 rice mills and processing units were registered for export of non-basmati rice from India to China.
This trade is important for India from the strategic point as well, as Pakistan has so far dominated exports of rice to China shipping 2.33 lakh metric tonne worth $83 million in the eight-month period till February 2018.
Exporters from Nagpur would be using the multi-modal connectivity model launched earlier by the state-owned Concor, which started container service over rail connecting Nagpur with the port.
Connecting hinterland with ports is the objective of the Jal Marg Vikas project set up for a capacity augmentation on Varanasi-Haldia stretch of the national waterways at a cost of Rs 5,369 crore with technical assistance and investment support from the World Bank.
The cargo traffic on national waterway 1 (NW-1) was about 5.5 million tonne in FY18 and is expected to touch 21.89 million tonne by 2021 with the implementation of a slew of intermodal transport project, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said recently.