North East India has many large and small rivers providing facilities for water transport (especially in its plain parts and in flat river valley of the large rivers in hills). From the ancient period till proper road connectivity were constructed, river Brahmaputra and Barak were commonly used as mode of transportation of goods and passengers. During the British period, Brahmaputra River and Barak- Surma –Kushiyara - Meghna river systems were extensively used for transport and trade between North-East (NE) India and Kolkata port. These rivers became important carriers of trade with the growth of tea industry.
It is estimated that NE region has about 1800km of river routes that can be used by streamers and large country boats. The inland water transport departments of both the state and central governments have been trying to improve the water transport system in the region. The river Brahmaputra has several small river ports (terminals) like Sadiya, Dibrugarh, Disangmukh, Neamati, Tezpur, Pandu-Guwahati, Jogighopa and Dhubri. There are more than thirty pairs of ferry-ghats on river Brahmaputra used for transporting passengers and material besides the above river terminals. The river Barak has also small ports at Karimganj and Badarpur along with ferry services at several places.
Besides, the major tributaries of river Brahmaputra namely Lohit, Dhansiri, and Subansiri, rivers of Tripura namely Gumti and Haora, Tizu river in Nagaland, Kaladan river in Mizoram etc., being explored for navigation potential and for development for better utilization of both cargo and passenger transportation.
In NER there are 20 National Waterways including Brahmaputra. The 19 New National Waterways of North East Region were declared as National waterways under National waterways Act 2016, in April 2016.