Explained: understand what the new draft law on inland navigation vessels aims to achieve

Parliament passed a new law last week that will standardize the rules and regulations governing inland waterways and navigation in India. The new law aims to develop Indian waterways as a viable and prosperous mode of transport, especially for freight.

The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 replaces the Inland Vessels Act, 1917. One of the main things that the new legislation seeks to do is to subdue all of India’s inland waterways and the movement of ships on them for any purpose under a central regulatory regime.

India has nearly 15,000 km of inland waterway network including rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc.

The Inland Vessels Act of 1917, which was replaced by the new legislation, was intended as pure consolidating legislation with limited applicability and purposes, according to the government. The law had undergone several changes, the last major changes having been enacted in 1977 and 2007.

“This law included provisions relating to the restrictive movement of power-propelled vessels under the jurisdiction of the state government, the requirement for approvals, the limited enforceability and validity of non-uniform certificates, standards and regulations that varied from state to state, resulting in obstacles and obstacles in seamless navigation through states and development of the sector, ”said an official statement.


The new law defines mechanically propelled vessels as ships, boats, sailboats, container ships and ferries. The Center, empowered by the new law, will oversee the classification, design, construction and crew accommodation standards, as well as the type and frequency of visits, for these vessels.

The construction or modification of these vessels will require the prior approval of a designated authority, as prescribed by the central government. All such vessels must be registered with the respective States or Union Territories. The movement and identities of the vessels will be recorded in a central database.

In 2016, the NDA government notified 111 inland waterways as National Waterways of India under the National Waterways Act 2016. box).

The Inland Waterways Authority of India, under the Ministry of Navigation, is developing national waterways for commercial navigation, notably with the help of the World Bank.

One of the opposition criticisms the bill has received is that it takes away a lot of state rights and puts them in the hands of the Center.

The new law passed now prescribes certain dos and don’ts. For example the rules of operation.

To operate in inland waters, vessels must have a survey and registration certificate. Those owned by Indians must be registered with the Registrar of Inland Vessels (appointed by the state government). Once registered, it will be valid throughout India.

While the state government will issue the certificate, the form will be prescribed by the Center, much like in the case of motor vehicles. Like motor vehicles, ships must be insured. The certificate will also mention the inland water zones (operating zones to be delimited by the States) for these vessels.

Mechanical vessels must meet certain specifications for signals and equipment to ensure safe navigation, as specified by the central government.

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The new law states that in the event of distress or an SOS signal sent by a ship’s captain, any other nearby ship must respond, much like maritime custom and rules at sea. nearby vessel does not come to seek help, it will be liable to a fine of up to Rs 10,000, unless it has not provided such assistance for certain specified reasons.

In the event of an accident, the nearest police station should be involved for investigation and action. The local district magistrate can also organize an investigation and recommend action.

The law says that the Center will prescribe the minimum number of people ships must carry for various roles and what the qualification of the personnel must be. Failure to comply with this rule will result in a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offense and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offenses.

The law empowers the central government to prescribe what type of pollutants and sewage vessels and can discharge and how much. As in the case of motor vehicles, the law empowers the Center to prescribe the format in which states can issue certificates of controlled pollution.

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Regarding the future development of inland navigation, being a new sector, the bill also provides for the maintenance of a fund that will be used for emergency preparedness, pollution control and strengthening of navigation. The fund will come from state government programs, the sale of cargoes and wrecks, and stakeholder contributions.

The new law also covers future developments and technological advances in the construction and use of ships. Regulate technologically advanced ships of the present and the future identified as “special category ships”.

The government wishes to promote inland waterways, particularly in addition to the movement of goods through India. Indeed, the mode has been recognized worldwide as environmentally friendly and economical, especially for goods that do not depend on the speed of delivery.

According to a government study conducted by RITES, one liter of fuel displaces 24 tonne-km on the road; 95 tonne-km on rail and 215 tonne-km on inland waterways.

On railways it takes around Rs 1.36 to move a ton of goods over a kilometer, on highways it takes Rs 2.50, while the same takes Rs 1.06 on inland waterways.

Heavily underutilized today, India’s waterways transport around 55 million tonnes of cargo each year. Movement is currently limited to the Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly, Brahmaputra, Barak rivers, rivers of Goa, Kerala backwaters, inland waters of Mumbai and the deltaic regions of the Godavari – Krishna rivers.

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