Guwahati, Sept. 14: Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) has decided to stop sending export consignments on National Waterway 2 (the Brahmaputra), signalling further reduction in cargo movement along the river.
NRL managing director Dipak Chakravarty told The Telegraph that transporting cargo over the river was uneconomical, as it took far too long for consignments to reach Bangladesh.
The refinery has been exporting high-speed diesel to Bangladesh since 2007.
This does not augur well for the waterway as cargo movement over it has been coming down since 2004-05, despite the Centre’s attempts to convince industries to use this “safe” route to move large consignments.
In 2004-05, cargo movement on the river was 10,017.16 metric tonnes, which came down to 1,592.27 metric tonnes in 2010-11.
The major commodities being sent along the waterway are coal, cement, high-speed diesel and edible oil.
An NRL official said, “Taking into account our past experiences, we thought it prudent to put using the river on hold as it was not making sense.”
The official said it had taken more than a month for the vessels to reach Bagabari in Bangladesh from Silghat — a journey that normally should not have taken more than 15 days.
“It is difficult to hold stocks for so long as one loses money. The river needs to be improved to ensure smooth sailing,” he said.
Exporting to Bangladesh remains the best option for NRL, as it is the nearest market. Otherwise, the company has to look for distant markets in other parts of India. It has to market 85 per cent of its products outside the Northeast to ensure viability.
Till date, NRL has exported 3,400 metric tonnes of high-speed diesel to Bangladesh in two consignments (2007 and 2008).
A waterway official said Brahmaputra was a difficult river to navigate, as there were submerged rocks at many places along with sharp bends and steep gradients, and added that to ensure smooth sailing for cargoes, suitable cargo vessels were also required.
He said the highly dynamic nature of the flood-prone river system made maintenance and control measures like dredging and riverbank protection difficult.
A waterway official said the river needed to be improved in a big way as otherwise, navigation over the Brahmaputra would be difficult, especially for cargoes that require smooth sailing. “The river is wide and dynamic and it needs to be controlled by river training measures like bank protection,” the official said.
The river training and control works include maintenance of the minimum river depth, which can be achieved through dredging. “Designing an appropriate riverbank protection system on the Brahmaputra has been a challenging task for engineers. It is a braided river system with varying flood channels and frequent floods changing its characteristics,” the official said.
Moreover, the waterway does not have cargo suitable vessels. “One requires a 1,000 tonne vessel with a draft of 1.8 metres to ply on Brahmaputra,” the official said, adding that it was a very difficult river to negotiate, as there were hidden objects like submerged rocks at many places along with strong currents, sharp bends and steep gradients, especially in the Upper Assam stretches.
Though the ministry of shipping had moved the Centre to provide subsidy for the inland water transport sector in the Northeast to make it attractive to ensure optimum use, nothing has materialised.
NRL has also mooted a plan of using a pipeline to send high-speed diesel to Bangladesh. But, the official said, it was still at a concept stage. An NRL team would be visiting Bangladesh soon to discuss the proposal, as the company’s officials consider it a feasible option.