The Financial Express

Sustainable river dredging, management necessary for economic growth, experts say  

| Updated: August 03, 2021 09:37:21

Sustainable river dredging, management necessary for economic growth, experts say   

Experts in a virtual discussion have raised some important issues, namely green transportation on waterways, river training, capacity building, sustainable dredging, lack of a master plan, VAT and tax reduction, adequate budget for river management, and setting up a river training institute.

Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) organised the webinar titled ‘Sustainable River Dredging: Challenges and Way forward’ on Saturday, said a press release. 

State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury joined the discussion as the chief guest.

Former president of FBCCI Md Shafiul Islam (Mohiuddin) and Kabir Bin Anwar, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources joined the event as the special guests.

DCCI President Rizwan Rahman chaired and moderated the webinar.  

Mr Rahman in his opening remark said Bangladesh is a riverine country and waterways play a diverse role in its economy. The number of rivers in Bangladesh is being reduced due to siltation and reduction of streamflow that affects waterways as the cheapest means of transportation. Inland water transport has a great economic impact.

“It is high time we improve the waterways for the sake of both industrial and socioeconomic development of the country as Bangladesh is poised to become a developing country by 2026”, he said.

The 24,000 km waterways were reduced to 6,000 km in monsoon and 3,600 km during the lean period due to the dynamic characteristics of the rivers and its effect falls into the economic and ecological state of the country, he added.

Navigable waterways have manifold positive cascading effects on the economy as it saves container transportation time and is comparatively cheaper for goods transportation. Moreover, navigable and well-managed waterways help to ease cross-border trade growth with the neighbouring states. But lack of maintenance, weakening upstream flow and human interventions are some of the common problems for declining navigable waterways.

The government has taken initiatives on capital dredging under the dredging master plan to bring navigability to 10,000 km internal waterways but it is important to monitor the execution process properly through a real-time monitoring system. Planning of any dredging should be commensurate with land reclamation and land development to get the best outcome. To ensure sustainable development of waterways, the national budget has to rationalize Import duty, Vat and AIT to reduce total tax incidence to import heavy dredging machinery and bring river dredging programmes into Fast-track development projects with a larger waterway infrastructure budget. Private and foreign investments need to be encouraged with more fiscal and policy incentives for bringing state of the art technology here. 

State Minister for Shipping said the government now focuses on river management according to the Delta Plan. We have been successful to bring transparency in this sector, especially in the tendering process. We have a plan to make 10,000 km inland riverways navigable. Presently capacity of Mongla Port has been increased manifold and now it eases the pressure on Chittagong port, he added. We have limitations and challenges but we must have to manage our rivers through efficient dredging as these are our natural assets, he said. The government is relentlessly working on sustainable river dredging both in the form of capital dredging and maintenance dredging and 35 more dredgers will be procured soon, he added. As per the delta plan, the government is firmly committed to develop the riverine system in the country and to materialize the plan, he invited the private sector to come forward with more investments even in the PPP format.    

In the webinar, the former president of FBCCI Md Shafiul Islam asked to create better coordination among BIWTA, the water development board, ministries and the private sector.

“Unplanned dredging may kill the rivers”, he said and suggested utilising green transportation as it is cheaper, faster and safer.

He requested to reduce VAT and tax on dredging machinery and equipment and asked the concerned people to remove inconsistencies in the policy to create private-sector confidence.

Considering to be in line with the delta plan, he also stressed on disciplined tendering method.

He requested NBR and the Ministry of Finance to reconsider the reduction of VAT and tax issues in this sector.

Kabir Bin Anwar, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources said we need a holistic approach for a sustainable maritime system. Presently we need 500 dredgers but we have 150-156 dredgers in hand, he informed. For capacity building we are still far behind, he added. He said maintenance dredging and capital dredging are in progress but they should be expedited in an efficient and skilled manner. The government has taken various projects to excavate rivers, Haors, Baors and Bils in the country for better navigability. The government is planning to establish a hydrological training and research institute, he informed. He also invited the private sector to come forward for capital dredging. He then underscored the importance of closer cooperation between BIWTA and the Water Development Board.  

Professor Ainun Nishat of BRAC University presented the keynote paper in the webinar.

He said there are two kinds of dredging, namely maintenance dredging and capital dredging. A master plan needs to be prepared for river and khal dredging in Bangladesh.

He also said that dredging should be done sustainably so that the country’s economy can be benefited as rivers not only carry water but also carry lives.

For efficient river management, special emphasis must be put on maintenance dredging, he said.

The private sector can play a major role in dredging operations, he added. He also underscored the importance of investments in dredging and de-siltation works.

The current practice of dredging operations, both capital and maintenance, needs to be evaluated, urgently, he further said.

To create skilled manpower, Professor Nishat emphasized establishing a river training institute.

Private dredging operators must be trained on sustainability issues, he reiterated.

PPP can be a useful model for river dredging, sand extraction, land recovery, land accretion and land reclamation, he added.

Abu Saleh Khan, executive director of the Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), said the total river basin system should be analysed efficiently.

“Dredgers today are highly sophisticated and modernised but they need proper training for skill development and capacity building”, he said.

 The private sector should come up with more investment in this sector, he added.

Mr Khan also emphasised the importance of sustainable dredging and long-term strategic planning in the maritime sector.

M A Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, said sustainability is a major issue worldwide.

He emphasised creating human resources and investing in technology. He also underscored the need for private sector investment in this sector.

Mr Jabbar said lack of transparency, planning, knowledge sharing issues and implementation are some of the major challenges.

For sustainable river dredging, policymakers should take a long-term strategy, he suggested.

Robert Hennessy, vice president of Group Civil Engineering, PSA International Pte Ltd said the river network in Bangladesh is still an untapped asset.

Riverways are cost-effective, cheaper and it reduces pressure on roads, he said, adding Bangladesh needs adequate sustainable capacity for larger vessels to come into the waterways.

And in that case depth of the river is important, he said.  

Moreover, economic, social and environmental sustainability is more important in terms of sustainable river dredging. He termed Bangladesh as one of the largest delta systems in the world that need proper planning and capacity development.   

Commodore Golam Sadeque, NGP, NDC, NCC, psc, BN, Chairman BIWTA said inland water transport is the most effective mode to move large quantities of cargo. The government is going to establish a training institute in Narayangonj, he informed. Inland water transport tariff for cargo is below Tk 1  per ton-km whereas for the road it is Tk 4.5 per ton-km.

For cargo freight movement in Bangladesh, the road is used 80 per cent whereas waterways are used only 16 per cent, he informed.

For a better outcome in this sector, he suggested allocating at least 1.5 per cent of GDP in the budget.  which is 0.4 per cent at present. The sector opens up opportunities for joint ventures and employment generation. He also concurred that there is a lack of a master plan for sectoral development. 

DCCI Senior Vice President N K A Mobin, FCS, FCA gave the vote of thanks.

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