Two barges carrying 1,233 tonnes of bagged fly ash from Bihar reached its destination — Guwahati’s Pandu port — on Monday morning to rekindle hope for a transport system that had virtually ended India’s partition in 1947.Around independence, Assam’s per capita income was the highest in the country primarily because of access for its tea, timber, coal and oil industries to seaports via the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems. The scenario changed after the river routes were cut off and rail and road through the Chicken’s Neck, a narrow strip in West Bengal, became costlier alternatives.“This has been one of the biggest voyages in recent history covering 2,085 km from Kahalgaon in Bihar to Pandu in Guwahati. This is basically to demonstrate that the inland waterways, both National Waterway 1, or Ganga and National Waterway 2, that is the Brahmaputra are technically feasible for transportation of loaded barges of 1,500-2,000 tonnes through Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route,” Shashi Bhushan Shukna, member (traffic) of Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) said.“We request and seek the participation of the industry to use the waterways, which is one of the cheapest modes of transportation and environment-friendly. This is just the beginning, and we hope this pilot movement will give confidence to the industry and the waterways will be used in a much better way,” he said.Long haulThe IWAI officials said the voyage of the barges marked one of the longest hauls in the inland water sector movement in the country. It materialised after IWAI convinced a cement firm in Assam to use waterways for procuring fly ash, used as raw material in cement and brick industry.The cement plant is near Sonapur, about 30 km east of Guwahati.The fly ash bags from National Thermal Power Corporation’s plant were loaded at Kahalgaon on two 1,000-tonne barges on August 30. The vessels crossed over Bangladesh waters on September 11 and entered Assam on September 26. The movement was slowed in Bangladesh due to a heavy current in the river from near Chandpur to upstream Baluchar.Run-ins with fishing boats on Bangladesh waters too were an issue, though Babloo Biswas, the master (captain) of the 10-member crew declined to speak about the ordeal en route.“Fishing boats often blocked the route of the barges, particularly when they inadvertently cut through fishing nets. There were instances when our men were assaulted,” an IWAI official said.Industry interestedBut the officials preferred to look at the brighter side of things. The movement of the barges with fly ashes has evinced confidence and interest in inland waterways and vessel operators as more than 10 such pilot movements have been successfully completed on various national waterways, they said.The IWAI had in July launched a dedicated portal called FOCAL to connect shippers and vessel owners with real-time data on the availability of vessels. Substantial infrastructure development such as multi-modal and inter-modal terminals, roll on-roll off facilities, ferry services, and navigation aids are under way, officials said.