Operations on the India-Bangladesh inland waterway route officially began on Saturday, with a Bangladeshi vessel transporting a cargo of cement from the neighbouring country’s Munshiganj port to Sonamura port in Tripura’s Sepahijala district.
As part of the riverine trade route, vessels will travel on the river Gomati — Tripura’s longest river, which criss-crosses through several districts before merging with river Meghna in Bangladesh. A permanent jetty is to be built in Sonamura for the loading and unloading of goods, with a temporary floating jetty currently in place.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb welcomed the vessel, saying the route has opened new horizons and that the state is seeing the ‘acche din’ as envisaged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A river needs to have a depth of 4-5 feet for goods carrier boats to operate on a regular basis. However, the Gomati riverbed remains navigable for less than four months a year as scanty rainfall during the remainder of the year results in low volume of water while accumulating sediments raise the average riverbed, rendering Gomati even shallower.
On Saturday, the Bangladeshi vessel was scheduled to reach Sonamura by 11 am but was delayed by a few hours after getting stuck 300 meters away from zero line and had to be manually tugged till the temporary jetty.
River expert and Tripura University associate professor Nibedita Das Pan told The Indian Express, “The inland waterways project is new and promising. Dredging is of course a way to tackle the shallow riverbed but I am afraid it will take far more than dredging the actual project route. They might consider dredging till Maharani barrage, where the sedimentation issue starts.”
As an alternate and long-term solution, she suggested water-resistant vetiver grass and riverbank plantation of bamboo, favourable varieties of plants to prevent riverbank erosion, in situ conservation of soil in the upper catchment by building small check-dams, regulated dredging at certain intervals etc.
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