Parliament passes Inland Vessels Bill 2021- All you need to know!

Inland Vessels Bill 2021 promotes cheaper and safer navigation, ensures protection of life & cargo and brings uniformity in the application of laws related to inland waterways & navigation.

Created On: Aug 2, 2021 15:10 IST
Union Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal
Union Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal

Parliament passed the Inland Vessels Bill 2021 after the Rajya Sabha approved it on August 2, 2021. The Lok Sabha had passed the bill earlier on July 29, 2021. The bill seeks to replace the Inland Vessels Act, 1917 and promote cheaper and safer navigation. 

Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal tweeted saying that the Inland Vessels Bill 2021 promotes cheaper and safer navigation, ensures protection of life & cargo and brings uniformity in the application of laws related to inland waterways & navigation.

The bill was introduced in the House by the Union Minister last week. It will now be sent to the Rajya Sabha for its approval. 

Significance

Union Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that the bill will boost trade, commerce and economic activities across the country and fulfil PM Narendra Modi's vision of achieving a forward-looking and robust legal regime in the critical areas of infrastructure and governance.

Inland Vessels Bill 2021: Key Features

•The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 was introduced in the lower house of the Parliament on July 22, 2021. It seeks to replace the Inland Vessels Act, 1917, which provides for the regulation of inland vessel navigation by states.  

•The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 seeks to do away with separate rules framed by the States and instead incorporate a uniform regulatory framework for inland vessel navigation across the country.

•The registration certificate provided under the new law will be considered valid all over the country and there will be no need of separate permissions from the states. 

•The Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 defines mechanically propelled inland vessels to include boats, ships, container vessels, sailing vessels and ferries. Under the law, the centre will prescribe the classification, standards of design, construction, and crew accommodation and type and periodicity of surveys for these vessels. The construction or modification of such vessels will also require prior approval from the designated authority.

•The bill provides that all such vessels must have a registration certificate and survey certificate to operate in inland waters. The registration certificate will be valid across India. The survey certificates will be given by state governments.  

What are Survey Certificates?

The certificate  survey will indicate the inland water zones such as areas of operation for such vessels. The areas will be demarcated by the state governments. 

•Besides this, the vessels should also have an insurance policy to cover liability for death, injury, or damage caused due to the usage of the vessel including accidental pollution.

•Navigation of vessels

(i) The bill also proposes that the vessels will have to follow certain specifications for signals and equipment to ensure navigation safety. This would be specified by the central government.  

(ii) The master of the vessel will be required to immediately send a distress signal to other such vessels in proximity in case of a navigation hazard. 

(iii) In case any vessel master abstains from providing assistance after answering a distress call, he will face a penalty with a fine of up to Rs 10,000, unless he is unable to render such assistance on certain specified grounds. 

•Accidents aboard vessels

(i) The bill proposes that all accidents aboard such vessels must be reported to the head officer of the nearest police station and to the state government-appointed authority.  

(ii) The state may require the District Magistrate to inquire into such matters and submit a report recommending actions to be taken. 

•Vessel Crew 

(i) The bill provides that the centre will prescribe the minimum number of people that vessels must have, for various roles. Any violation of these requirements may attract a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offence and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offences.  

(ii) The centre will also prescribe standards for qualification for the crew as well as training, examination and grant of certificate of competency, which indicate the fitness of the recipients to serve in the specified roles.The certificates will be granted by the state governments.

•Disposal of waste

All such vessels will be required to discharge or dispose of sewage, as per the standards specified by the centre. The centre will notify a list of pollutants that will be prohibited for discharge or disposal. The state governments will provide the vessels with the certificate of prevention of pollution.

•Central Database of inland vessels

The Inland Vessels Bill 2021 provides for maintaining a central database,  an electronic centralised record of data on inland vessels, which will include all information about registration of vessels, vessel crew and certificates issued. 

•Development fund

(i) The Inland Vessels Bill 2021 also provides to set up a development fund that will be utilised for various purposes such as for emergency preparedness, containment of pollution and boosting inland water navigation.  

(ii) The bill provides that each state will be required to constitute such a development fund and the sources will include stakeholders, schemes of state governments and collections from the sale of wreck or cargo.

•Further, the Inland Vessels Bill 2021 empowers the state governments to prescribe certain functions related to non-mechanically propelled inland vessels including collating of data, conducting advisory programmes for owners, operators and users of such vessels. The state will also prescribe the criteria such as size, purpose, age, and design for the identification and categorisation of such vessels.  

Background 

The navigation of mechanically propelled inland vessels operating on inland waters is currently governed by the Inland Vessels Act, 1917. The Act has, however, become obsolete and inadequate to address the increasing complexities of this sector, as per Union Shipping Minister. 

The Minister said that operational bottleneck impacts the smooth and interstate movement of inland vessels across the country and it is important to ensure that the movement along the waterways is absolutely seamless across state boundaries to realise the true potential of inland water transport and promote it as an eco-friendly mode of transport to the congested road and rail network.

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