River transport on Brahmaputra: Still the preferred mode for thousands travelling to and fro Guwahati
The clouds approached as the Ferry ghats were nearing. While stepping to one of the ghats the heavy rainfall welcomed the passengers to the shore. The clouds may have showered by standing as a rebel to the heat of the sun. But the ferries and the boats stopped until the rain ended. The Brahmaputra may seem calm and serene but there is no one who doesn't fear its wrath. Therefore, it was a sign of danger to sail in such weather conditions. The mighty Brahmaputra acts as the path for innumerable passengers every day. It allows the ferry and boats to sail through its heart.
Meera Choudhury, an office assistant of Guwahati Municipal Corporation, prefers this mode of transport everyday. Overcoming all the hurdles and fear of the river she takes a ferry on a daily basis and crosses the mighty Brahmaputra and reaches her destination within minutes. A fifty five year old lady who lives in Rangmahal in North Guwahati, Meera Choudhury boards a Ferry everyday at 9:30 am and returns to home by boarding the 5:30 pm Ferry. Road connectivity between Guwahati and North Guwahati has improved in recent years and commuters can travel to and fro the capital city by different modes of transport plied on better roads. However, for Meera Choudhury and thousands of daily commuters, river-routes connecting Guwahati and North-Guwahati across the river Brahmaputra still remains the most preferred mode of transport.
The Inland Water Transport (IWT) services started in 1958 in the state is immensely used even today despite improvement in road and railway transportation.
Official data show that Guwahati IWT Division ferried 45,54,592 passengers, 13,862 metric tonnes of goods, 13,20,166 vehicles and two-wheelers and 27, 022 animals along its 46 routes in 2016 calendar year. In 2017, these figures increased to 48,23,048 passengers, 309118 quintals goods, 14,08,001 vehicles and bicycles( 8875524 vehicles and, 520477 bicycles), 32,169 animals. Of the total 48,23,048 passengers ferried in Guwahati Division from April 2017 till March 2018 altogether 21,17,816 passengers travelled by 11 ferry services connecting Guwahati city. These ferry services are Guwahati-Kirakara ferry service & Guwahati -Moumari ferry service, Sunsali-Kurua Guwahati.
Guwahati-Kurua, Guwahati-Rajaduar ferry service, Guwahati-Madhyamkhanda ferry service, Guwahati-North Guwahati, Guwahati-Kachamari, Pandu-Amingaon, Chandrapur-Kirakara, Baralimari-Guwahati. via Gariagaon, Haiborgaon, Kurihamari-Guwahati, via Sualkuchi.
Table : Revenue earned, Passengers and goods ferried along routes connecting Guwahati from April, 2017 to March 2018 (Source : IWT, Assam)
The water transport services starts from 8 am and ends at 6:45 pm. The ferry services starts at 8 am and the boats begins their trip at 9 am. Just like Meera, thousands of passengers prefer this mode of transport. Meera described the consumption of less time to be the main reason for opting this mode of transportation. Ferry commuters to and fro the city also have experience of getting caught in traffic jam for hours or sloth movement of vehicles when they travel by roads. Therefore, taking the river route is an easier way that saves time. In addition to this the fare of the ferry services is way too low that is Rs 2.5 per person per trip. There are extra charges of Rs. 5 or 10 for bikes and scooters. Each ferry has a capacity of 80-150 passengers and there is extra space for bikes, scooters and bicyles. The last ferry from the city leaves at 6:45 pm in which passengers take the last trip of the day with sigh of relief.
When it is monsoon and the level of water in the river increases, a fear engulfs in the heart of the passengers and so thus in Meera's heart. The ferry, which carries 80-150 passengers per trip including heavy goods, bikes and scooters and these adds weight to the ferry. When the ferry reaches the middle of the river she fears the mighty Brahmaputra and the fact that the ferry is loaded with heavy goods and bikes. She fears her journey during that time. The river current scares her; she whispers a silent prayer wishing that she along with her fellow passengers safely reaches the bank.
The IWT has a plan to introduce app-based river taxis to provide faster connectivity for the commuters. Introduction of the proposed service is expected to increase the number of passengers using water transport between Guwahati and North Guwahati.
Photographs were taken by Smita Gogoi and Gargi Baruah
(Smita Gogoi and Gargi Baruah are students of M.A. ( Second Semester) at the Centre for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication, Dibrugarh University in Assam. This feature has been produced as part of their Summer Internship at NEZINE.)