Building India Inc
BY jayashree kini-mendes
There is a very apt English maxim, which rightly sums up the long-standing problems in India. The maxim is ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. Few people act out of bad intentions. Actions of one person may not seem good to the others, but they seem good to the one taking the action. The intention of the surgical demonetisation by the government in November last year was to flush out a large amount of black money hoarded in cash, but if it had announced that this would be from December 31 right at the outset, it would have saved people plenty of inconveniences. Similarly, the intention of imposing the liquor ban on hotels close to highways was to eliminate accidents caused by drink-driving. Since the order cannot be challenged, authorities are now finding ways to circumvent the ban and prevent distress to the hospitality sector that would be most hit.
Since India achieved independence, and having chosen a model of mixed-economy, it has always been the government’s intention to raise the urban and rural areas. One way to bring them on an even keel was to create infrastructure, by which we mean roads and highways. While the intentions were good, what went missing was swift action. Moreover, the diversity of the states (Indian states have been divided on a linguistic basis) meant that every state government had his or her own intentions for their respective state. Though this did not culminate in progress at the national level, the die had been cast.
Infrastructure building in India has also met with similar intentions. Every government has sought to make progress and road building was accorded the highest priority. But, sadly, the intentions always met a roadblock with numerous reasons cited. It is only now that one can see a pace in progress. The present government has realised that the heightened awareness of citizens will not allow them to rest on past laurels and that actions do speak louder than words.
Our bulldozers, our roads
There is an increase of reports and pictures in newspapers and on social media of bad roads. Indian roads are often compared to those overseas. If long-lasting and smooth roads can be built abroad, is it very hard to emulate the same in India? Don’t we have recourse to technology or methodologies that allow us to build the same here?
“Of course, we do,” says Ramesh Palagiri, MD & CEO,
Wirtgen India. “We have the best of machinery and technology. But there are certain things we need to start doing right. For instance, we need to fix the utilities so that the public works department can access it easily without damaging the road, which is often the case.”
For long, Indian roads have mainly been built using bitumen and later on asphalt. But extreme weather conditions and the onslaught of heavy traffic has an undesired effect on these roads. “Asphalt roads are intolerant to water. If we can ensure a proper drainage system that will take away the water from the road, then asphalt roads will last longer,” adds Palagiri.
Most industry people that Construction Week spoke to are vehement that while there is room for improvement, there is no technology or machinery that is lacking in India and can stop us from building long-lasting and pothole-free roads.
A road structure consists of various layers/courses such as soil-sub grade, sub-base, base and wearing/surface course. It is the surface course layer that is in contact with traffic loads, which is made up of bitumen-aggregate mixes. The base course is immediately beneath the surface course and made out of crushed aggregates, while the sub-base course lies between base course and subgrade.
Like any other engineering structures, it is important that a road structure is also properly designed and thought out. The thickness of the pavement and its constituent layers are designed by understanding traffic loads, soil character and its strength and also the quality of material proposed to be used in various courses. Abhijit Gupta, brand leader, CASE India, says, “Over the last few years, road building in India has improved with the help of new technology. Sophisticated equipment have accelerated the pace of road construction with an adequate increase in the quality of roads. In addition to maintenance, the expansion of the network and widening of existing roads is becoming increasingly important. It is important to use technologically advanced construction equipment to ensure building quality road network. Equipment manufacturers are innovating and adapting to latest technologies while improving the efficiency of the machines as time bound projects need reliable machines.”
Setting new standards
There is a general consensus in the industry that most roads & highways contractors use the best of materials and machinery. However, according to Palagiri, it would help if contractors and owners also take into deeper consideration and ensure that the mix is right be it homogenous or concrete or asphalt. Importantly, due diligence must be given to the temperature at which contractors are laying the asphalt. If the temperature is not right, then compaction cannot be even and that means the road will cave in after some time. He says that much of this is already happening with the BOT and hybrid annuity projects and also for maintenance. “If the roads not built right the first time, then it will increase maintenance cost in the long run,” he adds.
Speaking about advanced equipment in building of bridges, Tushar Mehendale, MD, ElectroMech, says, “With the advent of newer infrastructure projects in India, there has been a rapid change in designing and construction. With the increased spate of construction, the infrastructure companies have introduced cutting edge concepts in development. Contractors are also looking at increasing the longevity of their capital investment with the ability to re-utilise and reconfigure the existing cranes on newer projects. This needs a manufacturer with quality products and strong design team that can provide solutions for newer requirements and configure it effectively all while maintaining the efficiencies.”
Speaking about the quality of equipment, Jasmeet Singh, head, corporate communications and external relations, JCB India, says, “India has some of the most sophisticated equipment. What owners need to do is lay down the specifications of the road clearly at the outset and ensure that contractors are adhering to it. Issues of water logging and maintenance must be built into the contract.”
Equipment build up
Road construction requires a range of equipment such as compactors, wheel loaders, motor graders, dozers, among others. Gupta of CASE India says, “Our compactors combine climbing power, high centrifugal forces and 3600 visibility to offer superior productivity and power. The compaction line offers easy operation and outstanding serviceability. We recently upgraded the 1170EX soil compactor featuring a new FPT Industrial S8000 3.9 litre engine that delivers 100hp at 2200rpm and torque of 435Nm at 1300rpm. Our skid steers are built with more power and torque that help boost productivity and increase operator comfort. Industry-first side lighting and improved reliability and serviceability help get more work done. The backhoe loaders are re-engineered from the ground up to deliver industry-leading backhoe breakout force, greater loader lift capacity/reach and best-in-class cab visibility.”
Speaking about some of the new technologies, Palagiri said that Wirtgen India has introduced new technologies in the last 3-4 years. “One is cold recycling in which asphalt pavement surface distress can be recycled and reclaimed. We use existing material thus saving aggregates and bitumen. Another technology we have introduced is cement treated base and now we are bringing hot-recycling to india which will allow the contractor to reclaim and redo the top layer of the road as the machine moves,” he added.
Singh of JCB insists that operator training for equipment should be made compulsory. “One can have all the sophisticated equipment, but if the operator does not know how to get the best out of it, then there is a challenge. Contractors msut continuously monitor surface and sub-grade. On our part, we have moved away from a product-centric approach to a solution-centric approach. On our part, we have assured support such as telematics and LiveLink that play a large role for people on remote sites,” he added.
Immaterial of equipment, what matters is that owners and contractors need to understand that if the mix is homogenous, the compaction is right, the temperature is right, an asphalt road will last long. Though MoRTH is now promoting cement roads, it is important that it gets it right the first time as they are difficult to repair. Asphalt will require maintenance but if the road is done right then one need repair only the top layer which can be once in 7 years depending on the traffic. Then you just mill the top 20mm or 40mm and re-lay it.