THE CONTEXT: On August 2nd, 2021, Parliament passed the Inland Vessels Bill, 2021. It replaces the Inland Vessels Act, 1917. The Bill seeks to introduce a uniform regulatory framework for inland vessel navigation across the country.
KEY FEATURES OF THE BILL
- Mechanically propelled inland vessels: The Bill defines such vessels to include ships, boats, sailing vessels, container vessels, and ferries. The central government will prescribe the: (i) classification, (ii) standards of design, construction, and crew accommodation, and (iii) type and periodicity of surveys, for these vessels. Construction or modification of such vessels will require prior approval of a designated authority, as prescribed by the central government.
- Operation: To operate in inland waters, all such vessels must have a certificate of survey and a certificate of registration. Vessels with Indian ownership must be registered with the Registrar of Inland Vessels (appointed by the state government). The registration certificate will be valid across the country. The certificate of the survey will be granted by state governments, in a form as prescribed by the central government. This certificate will indicate the inland water zones (areas of operation to be demarcated by states) for such vessels. The vessels must 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 safety: Such vessels will be required to follow certain specifications for signals and equipment to ensure navigation safety, as specified by the central government. In case of a navigation hazard, the master of a vessel must immediately send a danger or distress signal to other such vessels in proximity and to the concerned state government. If a vessel master abstains from rendering assistance after answering a distress call, he will be penalized with a fine of up to Rs 10,000, unless he is unable to render such assistance on certain specified grounds.
- Inquiry into accidents: All accidents aboard such vessels must be reported to the head office of the nearest police station, as well as to a state government-appointed authority. The state may require the District Magistrate to inquire into these matters and submit a report recommending actions to be taken.
- Manning requirements: The central government will prescribe the minimum number of people that vessels must have, for various roles. Violating these requirements will attract a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for the first offense, and Rs 25,000 for subsequent offenses. The central government will prescribe the standards for qualification, training, examination, and grant of certificate of competency, which indicate the fitness of the recipients to serve in the specified roles. State governments will grant these certificates.
- Prevention of pollution: Vessels will discharge or dispose of sewage, as per the standards specified by the central government. The central government will notify the list of pollutants which will be prohibited for discharge or disposal. State governments will grant vessels a certificate of prevention of pollution, in a form as prescribed by the central government.
- Database on inland vessels: The central government will maintain an electronic centralised record of data on inland vessels. These records will include information on (i) registration of vessels, (ii) crew and manning, and (iii) certificates issued.
- Development fund: The Bill provides for a development fund that will be utilized for various purposes including (i) emergency preparedness, (ii) containment of pollution, and (iii) boosting inland water navigation. Each state will constitute such a development fund. Sources of contribution to the fund include (i) schemes of state governments, (ii) stakeholders, and (iii) collections from the sale of wreck or cargo.
- Non-mechanically propelled inland vessels: The Bill empowers state governments to delegate certain functions related to non-mechanically propelled inland vessels to their local governments. These include collating data and conducting advisory programmes for owners, operators, and users of such vessels. State governments will prescribe the criteria (such as size, purpose, age, and design) for the identification and categorization of such vessels.
- Uniform applicability of rules and regulations to ensure seamless, safe, and economical trade and transportation by using inland waterways.
- Prescribing of standards for classification and categorization of mechanically propelled vessels, standards and processes involved in registration of vessel; standards for identification and categorization of special category vessels, etc. by the Central Government and implementation of the provisions in compliance with the prescribed standards by State Governments.
- Preserving the statuses of authorities established by the respective State Governments and thereby ensures the effective administration of the provisions of the proposed legislation.
- Provides for a Central Data Base /E-Portal for registration/crew database thereby imbibing the spirit of Digital India Campaign.
- Stipulating higher standards to ensure the safety of navigation, protection of life and cargo, prevention of environmental pollution, providing for healthier trade practices, the constitution of the welfare fund, transparency and accountability of administrative mechanism, training and development of the efficient and skilled workforce.
- Covers the future developments and technological advancements in vessel construction and usage. Regulating the technologically advanced vessels of the present and future identified as ‘Special Category Vessels’.
- Provisions regarding Wreck and Salvage were introduced. The receiver of Wreck to be appointed by the State Government.
- Provisions regarding principles of liability and limitation of liability were introduced. To ensure secure trade and trade practices, the concept of insurance was improvised and expanded.
- Provisions relating to casualties and investigation improvised.
- Ease of compliance for service providers and service users.
- Provides a platform for the State Governments to regulate the unregulated sector of non-mechanically propelled vessels.