Contributed By Vipul Dhasmana
Inland waters, for the purpose of inland navigation, include any canal, river, lake or other navigable water. Once published as an Act of Parliament, the proposed Inland Vessels Bill 2021 will promote economical and safe transportation and trade through inland waters and bring uniformity in application of law relating to inland waterways and navigation within the country. The Inland Waterways Authority of India, constituted under section 3 of the Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985 shall be the competent authority for the purpose of exercising or discharging the powers, authority or duties conferred, by or under this Act.
The law will provide for safety of navigation, protection of life and cargo, and prevention of pollution that may be caused by the use or navigation of inland vessels. It will ensure transparency and accountability of administration of inland water transportation, strengthen procedures governing the inland vessels, their construction, survey, registration, manning, navigation and such other matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Vessel includes every description of water craft used or capable of being used in inland waters, including any ship, boat, sailing vessel, tug, barge or other description of vessel including non-displacement craft, amphibious craft, wing-in ground craft, ferry, roll on-roll-off vessel, container vessel, tanker vessel, gas carrier or floating unit or dumb vessel used for transportation, storage or accommodation within or through inland waters.
Declaration of inland water area into Zones
The State Government may, for the purposes of this Act, declare by notification any inland water area to be a “Zone” depending on the maximum significant wave height criteria. The State Government may classify the maximum significant wave height criteria into the following Zones, namely:—
(i) Zone 1 refers to the area (other than Zone 2 or Zone 3) where the maximum significant wave height does not exceed 2.0 metres;
(ii) Zone 2 refers to the area (other than Zone 3) where the maximum significant wave height does not exceed 1.2 metres; and
(iii) Zone 3 refers to the area where the maximum significant wave height does not exceed 0.6 metres.
Mechanically propelled inland vessel means that any inland vessel in the inland waters which is propelled by mechanical means of propulsion; or floating units, floating surfaces, dumb vessels, barges, rigs, jetties or such other non-mechanically propelled inland vessel, which are towed or pushed with the assistance of another mechanically propelled vessel and used for carriage, storage, transportation and accommodation of passengers and cargo in or through inland waters.
Non-mechanically propelled inland vessel means any vessel which is not a mechanically propelled inland vessel. As per the proposed Bill, the State Government may authorise any of its departments to administer and implement the provisions, and office of the authorised department shall be located at such places which are accessible to owners, operators of non-mechanically propelled inland vessel and service users of such vessels.
The owner or operator may enrol, by submitting the details of the ownership of non-mechanically propelled inland vessel, undertaking that the vessel is put into motion by solely employing human labour and such other details as may be prescribed by the State Government, at the office of the authorised department, which is located nearest to the place of residence of the owner or area of plying of the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel, in such form and manner as may be prescribed by the State Government.
For the purposes of identification and categorisation of non-mechanically propelled inland vessels, to be enrolled, the State Government shall publish such criteria for categorisation which may include the size, purpose of employment, age, construction, design or such other criteria of the vessels.
The enrolment of non-mechanically propelled inland vessels shall be a prerequisite for such vessels to be entitled for the benefits and preferential treatment. The details of the enrolled vessels shall be recorded in the registry of enrolment and be reported by the offices of lowest order in the hierarchy of power to the highest hierarchy and the collated list of enrolled vessels shall be maintained by the office of District Magistrate.
The State Government shall maintain a central data base to record the details of the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel enrolled within the respective jurisdiction, in such form and manner as may be prescribed by it.
The officer of the authorised department appointed or authorised to maintain the registry under this Chapter, shall issue a certificate of enrolment to the non-mechanically propelled inland vessels that have enrolled in the registry of enrolment.
The certificate of enrolment shall be issued, in such form and manner as may be prescribed by the respective State Government, and details to be specified in such certificate shall include—
(a) name, permanent address as given in the Unique Identification Document issued by Unique Identification Authority of India, electoral identification document or such other document of the owner, as may be prescribed by the State Government;
(b) details such as year of construction, laying of keel or such other information;
(c) details of design, if identified or categorised under this Chapter;
(d) details of officer issuing or granting the certificate; and
(e) number given to the vessels enrolled by the issuing authority.
The authorised department in every State shall issue a number to the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel enrolled within the respective jurisdiction, which shall be unique for the purpose of identification of enrolment with the authorised department of the respective State. The number so issued shall be exhibited on a conspicuous part of the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel in such form and manner as may be prescribed by the respective State Government.
Standards of construction and safety
(1) The basic minimum standards that may be reasonably observed during the construction of any non-mechanically propelled inland vessel, shall be such as may be prescribed by the State Government.
(2) The State Government shall specify, the standards of construction, which any class or category of non-mechanically propelled inland vessel shall comply with, in such manner as may be prescribed by it: Provided that the standards prescribed by the State Government shall be in harmony with the traditional knowledge and practices passed on as customary or ancestral means that are applied by skilled and talented persons involved in the designing and construction of non-mechanically propelled inland vessel.
(3) The State Government may specify the minimum safety gears and equipment by notification in the Official Gazette with which the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel shall be equipped with for the purpose of ensuring safety of such vessels.
(4) The State Government may provide for standards of overhauling, modifying, altering or refitting the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel for the purpose of ensuring safe navigation.
(5) The non-mechanically propelled inland vessels enrolled under this Act, shall comply with the safety standards as stipulated under this Chapter or the rules made in this regard.
(6) For the purposes of ensuring safe navigation of non-mechanically propelled inland vessels, the State Government may, by notification, specify the routes, areas or stretch of inland waters that are prohibited from being used or subject to such terms and conditions, for the navigation of non-mechanically propelled inland vessel.
Power of State Government to make rules to regulate non-mechanically propelled inland vessels
The State Government may, by rules made in this behalf, specify the measures to regulate non-mechanically propelled inland vessels. The State Government may make rules for the following, namely:—
for prevention and minimising pollution caused by the non-mechanically propelled vessels; and for removal of obstructions to safe navigation.
Constitution of welfare fund
Every State Government shall, by notification, constitute a welfare fund at district level, for allocation of such fund to assist the non-mechanically propelled inland vessels enrolled under this Chapter.
Any officer appointed or authorised under this Chapter to be in-charge of the fund for the non-mechanically propelled inland vessel shall, with the previous approval in writing of the respective State Government or such other authority appointed for the said purpose, utilise the fund to—
(a) create awareness and conduct knowledge dissemination sessions for educating the owner, operator and service user on improvements required for safe navigation;
(b) provide equipment and devices of safety and navigation at a subsidised rate;
(c) provide support or relief during casualties, accidents or such emergencies; and
(d) for such other purposes as it may deem fit.
(Vipul Dhasmana is a Marine Techno-Legal Consultant based in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.)