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Waterways are the cheapest means of transport. India is criss-crossed by large rivers, which had been utilised as inland waterways since time immemorial. Indian sailors had set forth from the sea coasts and spread Indian culture in neighbouring regions apart from establishing commerce.

Some of the major inland waterways of India are

  1. the river Ganges between Allahabad and Haldia, known as National Waterway 1.
  2. the river Brahmaputra between Sadiya and Dhubri, known as National Waterway 2.
  3. coastal backwaters in Kerala – the West Coast Canal, known as National Waterway 3.

Some of the other rivers used for inland waterway are Godavari, Krishna, Brahmani and the Damodar Valley Canals. The Inland Waterways Authority was established in 1985 for the development of national inland waterways.

India has a long coastline of about 7500 km, where 12 major sea ports and about 181 medium and minor ports are present. About 85 per cent of India’s foreign trade is carried on by ocean transport.

The 12 Major Sea Ports in India

The 12 major sea ports in India are as follows:
  1. Kandla—situated in the Kutch peninsula of Gujarat, Kandla was constructed to reduce the heavy traffic handled by the Mumbai port. It is a tidal port served by a large hinterland spreading from Gujarat to Jammu and Kashmir, which is rich in agriculture and industries.
  2. Mumbai—It is the biggest port with a natural well-sheltered harbour. It is called the ‘Gateway of India’. Its rich agricultural and industrial hinterland extends from Delhi to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
  3. Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Nhava Sheva) was set up to decongest the Mumbai port.
  4. Marmagoa is located at the entrance of the Zuari estuary in Goa and serves Goa and Karnataka. Iron ore and manganese are exported through this port.
  5. New Mangalore Port is the most important port of Karnataka. Good quality iron ore mined from Kudremukh is exported through this port. It serves Karnataka and Kerala. Other items of trade are Mangalore, granite, timber and cashew nuts.
  6. Cochin (Kochi) is situated in Kerala. It has a natural harbour. It serves the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka.
  7. Tuticorin is situated along the southern part of Tamil Nadu in the eastern coast. It has a rich hinterland with a natural harbour and handles a large variety of cargo with Sri Lanka and Maldives.
  8. Chennai is one of the oldest ports of India and has an artificial harbour. It ranks second only to Mumbai in the volume of trade handled. It serves Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
  9. Visakhapatnam has a well-protected natural harbour in the coast of Andhra Pradesh. It handles export of iron ore and the hinterland spreads across Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
  10. Paradeep is situated in Orissa in the Mahanadi delta. It exports iron ore and serves Orissa, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
  11. Kolkata is an inland riverine port in West Bengal, built in the deltaic region of river Hooghly. This port serves a huge hinterland of the Ganga–Brahmaputra basin, as well as the neighouring land-locked countries of Nepal and Bhutan. Siltation is a major problem of the Kolkata Port and constant dredging of the sand from the river bed is necessary to maintain the navigability of the river. Ships with deep draught cannot enter the port. Since Kolkata Port handles the export of tea from the Brahmaputra Valley and Darjeeling, this port is called the ‘Tea Port of India’.
  12. Haldia port was constructed on the coast of Bay of Bengal, as a subsidiary to the port of Kolkata. Loss of navigability of the river Hooghly prevents large vessels and ocean-liners to enter the Kolkata port. To relieve the pressure on the Kolkata port, Haldia was constructed at the mouth of the Hooghly river.

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