Bengal, Jan 6: The Centre, West Bengal government, and the World Bank on Tuesday signed a US dollar 105 million project to improve the inland waterways infrastructure near Kolkata.

The project will cover the five populous districts of southern West Bengal, including its urban agglomeration — the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) where around 30 million people or one-third of West Bengal’s population lives.

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 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 Hooghly River, a distributary of the river Ganga, in Kolkata separates the Kolkata port from its large consumption centers, which are, its wholesale market and its vast hinterland comprising among others the entire North East of India and two landlocked neighboring countries namely, Nepal and Bhutan.

West Bengal waterways 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.

In the first phase, the project will enhance the capacity and improve the safety of the Inland Water Transport system; including rehabilitating existing jetties, buying new ferries with enhanced design; and installing electronic gates in 40 locations.

In the second phase, it will support long-term investments for passenger movements, including in terminals and jetties; improve the design of the inland water transport vessels; ensure night navigation on the most hazardous and trafficked routes and crossing points, and encourage the private sector to invest in Ro-Ro vessels that will allow easier movement of trucks across the Hooghly River.

The $105 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 17 years, including a grace period of seven years.