In a sign of revival of navigation in the Ganga, a cruise vessel carrying nearly a dozen tourists reached Varanasi from Kolkata on Wednesday. The river system between Varanasi and Kolkata was identified as National Waterway No. 1 (NW-1) in 1986. This is the second cruise vessel to reach Varanasi after the first one in 2009.
Officials of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) said work has already begun on making the NW-1 navigational throughout the year. In the Union Budget, the NW-1 project was allocated Rs 4,200 crore over a period of six years.
The private luxury cruise, ABN Rajmahal, of a private company based in Assam, had left Kolkata on August 8 and reached Varanasi’s Khirkiya Ghat near Rajghat Wednesday
Lack of depth in river water from Zamania (Ghazipur) to Kaithi (on Ghazipur-Varanasi border), a stretch of over 60 km, has been a major problem in navigation for cruise ships and merchant vessels, which usually carry heavy load.
Talking to The Indian Express over phone, Director (Patna Regional Office), IWAI, Gurmukh Singh, said: “Rajmahal is the second cruise after Pandava cruise, which had reached Varanasi, and also Allahabad in 2009. The bed from Zamania to Kaithi is rocky and shallow.
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Once a vessel manages to cross this stretch, there is usually no difficulty for it to reach Varanasi or Chunar. Tenders are in the process of being floated to deepen the rocky bed in this stretch. Once that is done, we will ensure by dredging that a depth of 2.5 metres to 3 m is maintained.”
Singh added this particular cruise vessel was able to sail through because of the high water level in the river due to floods. “This situation is likely to remain till November or so. But then, the water levels will go down. We want to make it navigational for the entire year,” he said. He added at least three barrages are also proposed in the stretch between Zamania and Kaithi.
“The locations of these barrages are yet to be finalised. But the idea is to retain water and maintain navigational depth,” he added. The official said the work was being done in constant consultation with the ministry of water resources that is also taking care of the task of cleaning up the Ganga.
Shailesh Tripathy, president of the Varanasi unit of Tourist Guide Association, who conducted the Varanasi leg of the tour, said: “After the first visit of Pandava to Varanasi and down to Allahabad in 2009, the cruise used to stop at Ghazipur, because the river became shallow after that, which was not fit for navigation. The travel agents would provide a bus link to Varanasi and nearby places to the tourists, who were again taken to Ghazipur and returned on the cruise to Kolkata.”
Santosh Singh, another government approved guide, who conducted this particular tour from Patna to Varanasi, said: “The vessel has left today for Chunar (Mirzapur). We will return on August 30. There are British nationals onboard.”