Goa’s Chorao-Panjim solar ferryboat in rough waters

Goa's troubled solar-electric-diesel ferryboat has been lying idle since Day 1, mired in excuses galore
GOING NOWHERE: Goa's first solar electric hybrid ferry boat was inaugurated with much fanfare in October 2022, but has never been used for its intended purpose.
GOING NOWHERE: Goa's first solar electric hybrid ferry boat was inaugurated with much fanfare in October 2022, but has never been used for its intended purpose.Photo: Franky Gracias

SRIDHAR D IYER

In Goa, there are certain routes where ferryboats (ferries) make life easy for the people and help save travel time, money, energy and the environment by avoiding the need to drive.

A popular ferry route is Panjim to Betim as we can circumvent the traffic congestion on the three bridges over the River Mandovi.

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The other places where ferries are a crucial mode of transport for the residents are the islands of Chorao and Divar.

Bridges connecting the islands to the mainland have been a contentious issue, with opponents rightly presuming that an influx of tourists would do more harm to the pristine islands than the supposed benefits.

A couple of fuel-driven ferries, run by the River Navigation Department (RND), cater to the islands of Chorao and Divar. Daily commuters face much hardships when a ferry breaks down, and travelling becomes difficult during the monsoon period when the river is in full spate.

A couple of fuel-driven ferries, run by the River Navigation Department (RND), cater to the islands of Chorao and Divar. Daily commuters face much hardships when a ferry breaks down, and travelling becomes difficult during the monsoon period when the river is in full spate.

Considering the fuel costs, environment and sustainability, in November 2017, a delegation led by the then minister for River Navigation, toured Kerala which had successfully introduced solar ferryboats.

It is reported that after the visit, a feasibility dossier was prepared in which it was suggested that since the River Mandovi has high currents and turbulence, a detailed study by experts was needed.

GOING NOWHERE: Goa's first solar electric hybrid ferry boat was inaugurated with much fanfare in October 2022, but has never been used for its intended purpose.
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It was also recommended that assistance and guidance be sought from other departments and agencies related to solar energy and electrical engineering prior to finalising the technical specifications of the ferryboat.

Besides these, there must be charging points at jetties, and facilities for passengers to embark and disembark.

In October 2022, amidst much fanfare, Goa’s first solar-electric-diesel hybrid passenger ferryboat, to ply between Chorao and Panjim, was commissioned. Although the ferryboat was inaugurated by the then Union Waterways Minister, it was not used.

The proposal seems to have been pushed through hurriedly and the ferryboat was built at a cost of Rs 4 crore.

In October 2022, amidst much fanfare, Goa’s first solar-electric-diesel hybrid passenger ferryboat, to ply between Chorao and Panjim, was commissioned. Although the ferryboat was inaugurated by the then Union Waterways Minister, it was not used.

End of Part 1 of the story.

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Part 2: Thereafter, it was reported that the RND could not commence operations as there was no landing ramp at Chorao Island!

A ramp was obviously necessary and could have been built while the ferryboat was under construction.

Thankfully, the works at Manohar International Airport, Mopa, were simultaneously carried out; else the flights would have to be diverted to Dabolim – due to a lack of runways – to the delight of the Dabolim taxi drivers!

Thereafter, it was reported that the RND could not commence operations as there was no landing ramp at Chorao Island!

To offset the absence of a ramp, a floating platform was built for the ferryboat, and services were due to start from Jan 9, 2023. But again, nothing happened, and the ferryboat collected solar heat and dust leaving commuters in a lurch.

Another reason that was doled out was that, supposedly, no person was available to run the ‘specialised’ ferryboat. This could have been taken care of by advertising for an operator, as there is no dearth of capable and experienced merchant, or Indian navy, captains in Goa.

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Part 3: In March 2023, the government mulled leasing the ferryboat to a private party to generate some income for the government. Nothing transpired and the ferryboat continued to haplessly bob up and down in the Mandovi river.

Part 4: In mid-June 2024, i.e., after 16 months, the RND allegedly stated that:

  • (i) The ferryboat was not for passengers, and it was not viable to operate it for passenger services! Then who was it built for?

  • (ii) People do not want a ferryboat that cannot carry vehicles. Was there a survey conducted on this aspect?

In March 2023, the government mulled leasing the ferryboat to a private party to generate some income for the government. Nothing transpired and the ferryboat continued to haplessly bob up and down in the Mandovi river.

Now, it has been proposed to issue a tender so that private parties can bid and use the ferryboat on lease for 5 years for the purpose of tourism, and that would fetch some revenue to the RND.

Closely observe the chronology of events that point to bad planning right from the time the ferryboat was conceptualised, ordered, fabricated and inaugurated, but never satisfactorily operated.

Now, there are considerations to hand it over to private parties as if they would resolve the ‘hindrances’ that were listed by the RND, which was unable to operate a wonderful ferryboat.

Can private parties circumvent the riverine conditions?

GOING NOWHERE: Goa's first solar electric hybrid ferry boat was inaugurated with much fanfare in October 2022, but has never been used for its intended purpose.
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It would be prudent for the RND to hand over the solar ferryboat to the Goa Tourism Development Corporation, which is successfully handling the river cruise vessels presently.

And, both being arms of the government, they would get cooperation from other relevant departments to keep the ferryboat sailing.

Let us cross our fingers that in the future, there will not be preposterous proposals to connect the islands through ropeways and helipads. It should not be a case of ‘government builds, does not use, and hands it on a platter to private companies.’

In the entire bargain, the people would be taken for a jolly good ride!

(Sridhar D Iyer, a marine geologist, retired as Chief Scientist from CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, Goa)

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