The Sagarmala programme and inland waterways are the big wins. A bigger piece of the global maritime trade is next
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India has a merchant marine fleet of 1,493 vessels, with a combined gross tonnage of approximately 13 million. To put it in context, nearly 95 per cent of India’s overseas trade by volume is carried through the country’s ports. But despite such high volumes, India is still not a big player in maritime shipping. The UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport, 2021, says India accounts for just 11 per cent of the total global dead weight tonnage. The smaller share of Indian shipping is mostly due to the higher tax regime/ duties levied on Indian ships and, with regard to competitiveness, the age profile of the merchant shipping fleet (most vessels are around 20 years vintage).
To counter these challenges, the Sarbananda Sonowal-led ministry provides help under the Financial Assistance Policy for Indian Shipyards. As part of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Abhiyan, a Rs 1,624 crore scheme (over a period of five years) to make Indian shipping companies globally competitive has also been in place. There is also the Sagarmala Programme, which includes projects for modernising existing ports and terminals and building new ones, enhancement of port connectivity, industrialisation around the ports, skill development centres etc. To promote inland water transport, 111 waterways (five existing and 106 new ones) have been declared as National Waterways under the National Waterways Act, 2016. Development activities have been initiated in the first 13 out of the 25 viable waterways.