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The World Bank on Tuesday signed a $105 million project with the central government and the government of West Bengal to spruce up the inland water transport infrastructure in the state.

Aimed at facilitating passenger and freight movement across the Hooghly river, the project will cover the five most populous districts of southern West Bengal, including its urban agglomeration the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) where around 30 million people or one-third of the state's population resides.

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"The inland waterways are now emerging as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly option for passenger and freight movement. This project will help improve the river transport infrastructure in West Bengal and help in the economic development of the state by connecting the hinterland with markets and job centres in Kolkata’s Metropolitan Area," said Dr CS Mohapatra, the additional secretary of Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.

The Hooghly river, a distributary of the river Ganga, separates the Kolkata port from its large consumption centres, which are its wholesale market and its vast hinterland comprising two landlocked neighbouring countries -- Nepal and Bhutan.

More than 80% of freight and passenger traffic currently cross the river via Kolkata’s three bridges. To curtail congestion, the city has restricted the movement of trucks to the port to certain bridges and only during limited hours, reducing access to the port and increasing the cost of logistics.

West Bengal’s ferries can provide an efficient, flexible mode of public transport for both passengers and freight, saving on operating costs and travel time when compared with road journeys.

The existing ferry system, operational for decades, caters to less than 2% of the passenger traffic and a small portion of the freight movement. Developing the river transport infrastructure will enable a large population of the state to utilize its waterways, have an alternative, multi-modal options for transportation for both freight and passengers

“This operation will allow the state to invest in Kolkata’s economic productivity by making its waterways and ferry services part of an efficient and safe urban mobility strategy," said Mr Junaid Ahmad, World Bank country director in India.

“Importantly, given Kolkata’s strategic location, the project is also ensuring that the metropolitan area emerges as a transport and logistics hub for the sub-region, leveraging the EDFC and connecting to the north-east and the land-locked countries of Nepal and Bhutan," he added.

The agreement was signed by Dr Mohapatra on behalf of the Government of India, Rajdeep Dutta, the deputy resident commissioner, on behalf of the Government of West Bengal and Ahmad.


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