No word on resumption of token boat service
Srinagar: Two decades after the state government talked about revival of Inland Water Transport (IWT) in river Jhelum, the project is still in quandary, with the government even unsure about resumption of a boat service in Jhelum it had introduced to test the waters.
In 1999 the government said it has decided to revive the inland water transport. A route plan from Pampore to Chattabal in the River Jhelum was also chalked out. A decade later, in 2012 the Omar Abdullah government, Kashmir Motors was given a contact to run five motor boats from Pantha Chowk to Chattbal and back.
“Five motorboats would run down the river in the old town until 2014, when they were damaged by the floods”, said Ufair Ajaz Kitab Vice president Marketing and Business Development Kashmir Motors.
The 2014 floods damaged the boats procured by Kashmir Motors, giving a jolt to the project.
The government reintroduced the project in 2017 with initial free rides. It appeared to be going on well, attracting commuters, until government started charging for the ride
“We had started free water transport services last year for almost two months. But when we started charging people at the rate of Rs 25 from GPO to Khanqah-e-Moula, nobody turned up” Director Tourism Mahmood Ahmad Shah told Kashmir Reader.
Currently, the boat service remains suspended with Shah saying a date for resumption was not decided yet.
“We don’t have any official date on when we are going to start water transport and also we have to wait till the water level increases. We had also requested the government that they should involve the local Shikarawalas to empower them,” Shah said.
While reviving water transport, which was once the mainstay of commutation in the valley, remains a far-fetched goal, sources privy to developments say even the token steps taken by government have failed –largely, because of the high fares, and skewed planning.
An informed source told Kashmir Reader that last year Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC) project procured some four to five boats from outside the state and ferried them here.
“Two of the boats were big ones priced at Rs 75 lakh each, but they were not Indian Registrar Shipping (IRC) certified. When they were brought here and put to test, they didn’t work, putting the department at a big loss,” the source said.
Ufair Kitab of Kashmir Motors says that the inland water transport project can only be successful if the local boatmen are involved in it. Besides he says, the river is not ready for transport yet.
“A government boat consumes 22 litres of petrol in one hour, (making it hugely expensive). If the government installs or provides engines to shikaras, it costs around Rs 1.5 lakh and has a capacity of four people, and consumes two to three litres of petrol in one hour,” Kitab explains.
Apart from that, he said, government can provide locally procured boats to shikara wallahs that would cost around Rs 10 lakh each.
About the other problems that hamper the project, Kitab lists issues ranging from lack of a uniform authority managing the river, to presence of old bridge piers in Jhelum that pose risks to boats.
“The government should form a concerned authority. Right now it is no one’s baby as their is no single authority to cater to all the components of the Jhelum” Kitab said.
Apart from that he said the safety mechanisms are not in place.
“We have a lot of water bodies but we lack the basic safety mechanism as we don’t have any immediate rescue operation or life jackets. So government should take the necessary steps to provide the basic safety mechanism to make this project a complete success.”
The piers of old bridges, he said, should be removed as they pose dangers to boats during low water levels. Plus, pontoons need to be installed on th e embarking points.
“If pontoons not installed then there are increased chances of accidents.”
Kitab said that he has flagged all the problems and suggestions in a report sought by the government from them last year.
Chairman Lakes and Water Developement Authority (LAWDA), Hafeez Masoodi, told Kashmir Reader that the government has constituted a committee to look into the possibilities of reclaiming the erstwhile waterways.
“It is in the initial stage and we don’t have any concrete information regarding it,” he said, adding. “We have our next meeting with different departments on 23rd March where all the concerned bodies will sit together and decide our future plans to make this mission a success”.