Parliament recently passed The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021, which aims to bring uniformity in the application of the law relating to inland waterways and navigation within the country.
The bill entails the government’s aim to develop inland ports and harness India’s 7,500km coastline and potentially navigable waterways.
The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 seeks to replace separate rules framed by states with a uniform regulatory framework for inland vessel navigation.
This will support the countrywide operation of registered boats, ships, container vessels, sailing vessels and ferries. However, to operate in the inland waterways, vessels will need a survey certificate, which will be issued by states.
This bill is going to bring forth various changes, such as;
With the new law, the centre will prescribe the minimum number of people that vessels must have, for various roles. Violation of these requirements may attract a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offence and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offences.
The centre will also prescribe standards for qualification for the crew as well as training, examination and grant of certificate of competency, which indicate the fitness of the recipients to serve in the specified roles. The certificates will be granted by the state governments.
The bill will ensure that vessels follow specifications for signals and equipment to ensure navigation safety including ones pertaining to responding to distress signals.
Further, it requires vessels to have an insurance policy to cover liabilities for death, injury or damage caused due to the usage of the vessel including accidental pollution.
It proposes that all accidents aboard such vessels must be reported to the head officer of the nearest police station and to the state government-appointed authority.
The Inland Vessels Bill 2021 calls for maintaining a central database, an electronic centralised record of data on inland vessels, which will include all information about registration of vessels, vessel crew and certificates issued.
A development fund will be set up for various purposes such as emergency preparedness, containment of pollution and boosting inland water navigation.
It requires each state to constitute such a fund and the sources will include stakeholders, schemes of state governments and collections from the sale of wreck or cargo.
Benefits of the Inland Vessel Bill
Currently, 4,000 km of inland waterways are operational in the country, with its new bill the government expects to not only promote the development of India’s inland shipping fleet but also expects more ports to be developed around the country to promote the use of vessels for cargo.
Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways said that the new bill will reduce the operational bottlenecks in the interstate movement of vessels.
The coastal shipping or inland shipping in India may find its niche in the form of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises that require smaller loads to be transported across the country.
Therefore, the implementation of the Inland Vessels Bill is expected to boost India’s MSME sector as coastal shipping is cheaper and in some cases is faster than road and railway routes.
Most importantly, the Bill will be very useful for the prevention of pollution as Vessels will discharge or dispose sewage, as per the standards specified by the central government.
The central government will notify the list of pollutants which will be prohibited for discharge or disposal. Based on this, the State governments will then grant vessels a certificate of prevention of pollution.
Hence, this Bill will benefit the country in terms of emergency preparedness, containment of pollution, and boosting inland water navigation.