The scenes of heavy, fuel-guzzling old boats running nearly empty through the landlocked villages of Kuttanad will soon be a thing of the past.
Aiming to offset some of the losses incurred in operating services to a handful of destinations in the region, the National Water Transport Department (SWTD) is offering a fleet of sleek, solar-powered vessels. Work on the first set of four boats due to join the SWTD fleet later next year has started at a shipyard in Panavalli, near Cherthala.
The new boats, according to the officials, will be deployed in the deficit sectors of central Kerala, in addition to some other destinations in Malabar.
Confirming the development, Shaji V. Nair, director of SWTD, said the new boats would be much smaller than the metal boats currently operated on these routes. “The deployment of solar boats, which will have 30 seats each, will help reduce the cost of operation, which far exceeds the income of some of these routes. The number of employees per operation will also decrease in proportion to the size of these boats,” he says.
For example, the SWTD incurs an average daily expenditure of ₹9,000 operating in the Muhamma-Kannangara-Maniyaparambu sector while revenues are below ₹3,000. The SWTD, however, continues to operate the road as its services serve as the main link for the residents of these landlocked villages to the outside world.
‘The introduction of the solar boat will help reduce the average daily fuel expenditure to around ₹500 per day. The launch of the first four boats will be followed by another series of four boats in the remaining routes identified as loss-making,” adds Mr Nair.
The department, meanwhile, is set to launch its solar-powered cruise ship in November this year. The AC double-decker boat, which will have 100 push-back seats on the lower deck and a party area on the upper deck, is intended to organize package tours connecting the various backwater destinations across Alappuzha and Kottayam.
An additional fleet of two 75-seater solar boats are expected to serve the Vaikom-Thavanakkadavu and Panavalli-Cherthala routes around the same time. Plans are also underway to make the Vaikom boat station energy neutral by installing solar panels on its roof.