This article is written by Harsh Gupta from the School of law, HILSR, Jamia Hamdard. This is an exhaustive article that deals with the new Inland Vessels Bill that has been passed by parliament recently.
The Lok Sabha introduced the Inland Vessels Bill, 2021 on July 22, 2021and subsequently it was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 2, 2021, now it will be sent to the President for assent. As a result, the 1917 Inland Vessels Act is no longer in effect. The Act regulates inland vessel navigation by states, including the registration of vessels and the safe carriage of goods and passengers. The Bill aims to create a uniform regulatory framework across the country for inland vessel navigation.
Main features of the Bill
The Bill defines mechanically propelled inland vessels like ships, boats, sailing vessels, container vessels, and ferries. As specified by the central government, these vessels must meet the following requirements:
- Design, construction and crew accommodations standards, and
- Type and frequency of surveys.
A designated authority, as prescribed by the central government, will have to approve the construction or modification of such vessels. The main features are as follow:
Operation in inland waters
- To operate in inland waters, all such vessels must have a certificate of survey and a certificate of registration. Indian-owned vessels must be registered with the Registrar of Inland Vessels (appointed by the state government). The registration certificate will be valid throughout the country. States will grant certificates of the survey in a form prescribed by the central government. The certificate will indicate the inland water zones (areas of operation to be delineated by the state) for such vessels. An insurance policy must also be in place to cover liability for death, injury, or damage caused by using the vessel (including accidental pollution).
- As specified by the central government, these maritime vessels will need to follow certain specifications for signals and equipment to ensure navigation safety. Any vessel in peril must immediately send a danger signal to other vessels within range as well as to the responsible state government. A vessel master who fails to render assistance after answering a distress call may be fined up to Rs 10,000 unless he is unable to do so for specific reasons.
Investigation in case an accident occurred
- A police officer and the state government-appointed authority must be notified of any accident aboard such vessels. A District Magistrate may be required to investigate these matters and submit a report recommending actions to be taken.
Manning requirements : certification of competency and penalty
- All vessels should have a minimum number of crew members for their respective functions as dictated by the central government. A violation of these requirements could result in a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offence, and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offences. Certification of competency indicates the ability of recipients to serve in their designated roles and is issued by the central government through qualification, training, examinations and certification. These certificates will be granted by the state governments.
Certificate of prevention of pollution
- All vessels will discharge or dispose of sewage according to regulations established by the central government. The central government will announce which pollutants cannot be discharged or disposed of. A certificate of prevention of pollution will be granted by state governments in the form prescribed by the central government.
Database of inland vessel
- The central government will keep a centralised electronic record of inland vessel data. The records will include information on
- The registration of vessels,
- The crew and manning of the vessels, and
- Certificates issued.
Establishment of development fund
- The Bill establishes a development fund that will be used for several purposes, including:
- Emergency preparedness,
- Pollution control, and
- Inland navigation.
- Such a development fund will be established by each state. Contributions to the fund come from:
- State governments,
- Stakeholders, and
- Proceeds from the wreck and cargo sales.
Non-mechanically propelled inland vessels
- Under the Bill, the state governments may delegate certain functions related to non-mechanically propelled inland vessels to local governments. Owners, operators, and users of such vessels can benefit from data collection and advisory programs. Governments will set criteria (such as size, purpose, age, and design) for identifying and categorizing such vessels.
The Inland Vessel Bill : advantages
At the moment, 4,000 km of inland waterways are operational in India. With its new Bill, the administration hopes to facilitate the development of the inland shipping fleet in the country, as well as develop more ports across the country for the transport of cargo. According to the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, the new Bill will reduce operational bottlenecks in the movement of vessels between states. The development of inland waterways in the country is however viewed with scepticism by market analysts. The Inland Vessels Bill will make tourist ferries and smaller ships more visible across India, however, inland waterways change seasonally, which may mean cargo-carrying ships are not able to utilize these waterways year-round.
In addition, the country’s inland waterways are very underdeveloped and year-long routes will need to be developed for industrial use, according to a senior port and shipping consultant in Mumbai. In India, coastal shipping or inland shipping may, however, find a niche among Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, which require smaller loads to be transported across the country. India’s Inland Vessels Bill is expected to boost the MSME sector, and coastal shipping is cheaper and sometimes faster than road and rail transportation. Several MSME companies can hire vessels to transport their goods, eliminating supply bottlenecks. By using alternate modes of transportation in India, such as rail and coastal shipping, the freight rate in the country can be lowered substantially. Another factor that’s a little bit on the outside is that the mix is starting to change a little bit as instead of all the products travelling only by road, they’ve begun to be moved by rail and other modes of transportation as well. Thus, that would reduce freight rates considerably, since rail and coastal shipping have lower rates.
Rules regarding navigation, safety and signals
- Signals and equipment based on classification and categorisation of mechanically propelled vessels shall comply with the specifications and requirements specified by the Central Government for all such vessels.
- Any mechanically propelled vessel plying on inland waters shall adhere to the rules and regulations prescribed by the Central Government with respect to the use of fog and distress signals, observing the proper steering and sailing rules, as well as exhibiting and displaying different standards of lights, shapes and signals.
- Each mechanically propelled vessel, while within the inland water limit, shall exhibit any lights or shapes, or use fog or distress signals, other than those required to be displayed. To ensure safe navigation throughout inland waters, every mechanically propelled vessel must take precautions to prevent collisions. The person in charge of any mechanically propelled vessel shall be deemed to be liable for any damage or loss caused by non-observance of any of the rules made by the vessel in the inland water limit at the time the damage or loss occurred unless it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court that there were exceptional circumstances.
- In inland waterways, the master of a mechanically propelled vessel that encounters a dangerous derelict or more difficult-than-expected navigation hazard shall immediately signal that to other mechanically propelled vessels in the vicinity and the concerned State.
- The government shall not charge any fees or charges for the use of any device for communicating information under this section if the vessel is mechanically propelled.
- A mechanically propelled inland vessel’s type or category must be prescribed by the Central Government in terms of navigation aids, life-saving appliances, fire detection and extinguishing devices, and communication devices.
- Owners, operators, and masters of mechanically propelled inland vessels must comply with all regulations regarding navigation aids, lifesaving equipment, and fire detection and extinguishing equipment.
- Authority of the State Government may appoint or authorise such officers to inspect mechanically propelled inland vessels during their transits to make sure they comply with applicable regulations.
- If Surveyors found that the vessel did not have sufficient fire-fighting and lifesaving equipment to comply with the provisions of this Act and if the vessel fails to comply with the rules made thereunder, the surveyor shall issue a notice to the master, owner, or operator in writing, and if compliance is not reported to the surveyor by the owner, the vessel cannot operate.
Among other things, the new Bill will make it easier to harmonise and effectively regulate the inland vessels as well as ensure seamless and safe navigation between the states. It ensures that all rules and regulations are uniformly applied to ensure inland waterway transportation and trade are seamless, reliable, and economical. Among other provisions, it prescribes the categories and procedures by which mechanically propelled vessels are classified, and requirements and procedures for registering vessels; the identification and categorization of special category vessels by the central government and implementation of the provisions in compliance with the prescribed standards by State Governments. This legislation also mentions the importance of preserving the statuses of authorities created by the respective State Governments to ensure the proper administration of the provisions. Additionally, it aims to give effect to the Digital India Campaign by developing a Central DataBase / E-Portal for registering personnel and building crew databases. Setting high standards for the safety of navigation, protection of life and cargo, prevention of environmental pollution, promoting healthier trade practices, transparency of administrative mechanisms, and training and development of highly skilled workers.
In addition, it discusses future developments and technological advancements in vessel construction and usage. Regulation of technologically advanced vessels of the present and the future is referred to as ‘Special Category Vessels’. Additionally, provisions regarding Wreck and Salvage are introduced. The State Government will appoint the recipient of the wreck. In addition, it introduces principles of liability and limitations of liability. Moreover, it also provides for provisions to ensure secure trade and business practices, and improvements and expansions to the concept of insurance. It provided provisions for casualties and improvised investigations. Providing a service provider and a user with ease of compliance. Furthermore, it provides a platform for State Governments to regulate the unregulated sector of non-mechanically propelled vessels.
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