Scaling new heights
With path-breaking projects, Arun Karambelkar, president & CEO, HCC, has raised the bar of engineering.
BY JAYASHREE MENDES
Building mega infrastructure projects of gigantic proportions seems to be a new calling for developing countries. And notwithstanding the investments required, most of these projects are constructed under arduous circumstances and could necessarily involve a manpower requirement of over 10,000. Today’s modern engineering also mandates that such projects depict intelligence while the superstructures add to the progress of the city or country.
Consider some of the circumstances under which our home-grown infrastructure giant, Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), has helped in nation building. Setting up hydroelectric projects 11,000 feet above sea level, working in places where temperatures dip to -40o Celsius not to forget low oxygen levels, surveying at high altitude terrains and traversing roads with hairpin bends with scarce human habitation, and carrying work materials to sites that have a six month cut-off period due to heavy snowfall and or besides being hostile areas. These and some more are just a few of the conditions under which HCC has created engineering marvels where nothing stood earlier.
And the engineering giant is proud of its achievements. A look around its office will showcase the glorious moments of its projects. The company office has areas devoted to showcasing intricate works of structures. Arun Karambelkar, president & CEO, HCC, says, “The projects we are executing are highly complex. And complexity of the projects has only increased. Moreover, considering that majority of core infrastructure projects are built in remote locations, it makes it that much harder to implement them.”
More often than not, the company is even required to create infrastructure to reach the remote location. So building roads, warehouses for adequate inventory storage such as building materials, fuel, spare parts, food grains and other store possessions are all part of the advance planning prior to commencing the project. “Once we reach the place, there are new challenges to be tackled. Over the period we have gathered skills in terms of dealing with such situations. Then there are political unrests in some places. Apart from the technical, there are these other challenges,” adds Karambelkar.
In order to tackle the uniqueness of every project, HCC has a robust risk management system in place. “Risks are identified right at the tender stage. Depending on the severity of the risk, decision is taken whether to bid or not to bid for a project. After studying the risks, we work out strategies to mitigate them. These are then transferred to the project manager who reviews them every month and senior management reviews quarterly. Risks come from various factors and not only from engineering. This is the fundamental requirement of managing a complex project,” he adds.
HCC has also gathered technical skills and its accomplishments are proof of that. In regard to civil engineering applications of tunnels, the company has acquired leadership position over eight decades and has matured to using various methods that range from cut and cover method, drill and blast, tunnel boring machine (TBM) and New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM). It undertook one of the longest constructed tunnels in India (23.65km in length and 6m in diameter) utilising a double shield TBM for its Kishanganga hydropower project in the Himalayan region in a record time of 24 months. It is also one of the major contractors in Delhi Metro where it has deployed five TBMs. Similarly, when the company took up the responsibility of building the longest railway tunnel, Pir Panjal (J&K), HCC utilised the NATM method for dealing with rugged terrains where it faced several geological surprises and created an 11.125km waterproof tunnel.
The company not only has expertise in operating various types of tunnelling methodologies but has worked in all types of geologies. Karambelkar says, “When we embarked on the Dagachhu hydropower project in Bhutan, our engineers faced one of the worst types of geologies. The ground strata was inadequate to hold the structure as there were several water courses beneath the surface and the land was marshy. Using inclinometers and geotechnical equipment to measure the underground movement revealed large underground movement. We changed the alignment of the head race channel and utilised soil stabilisation with the use of additional shotcrete and special anchoring. At the head race tunnel, we deployed support systems such as rock bolts, wire mesh with shotcrete, steel ribs, lattice girders and winches in varying quantities.”
Having executed a number of hydroelectric projects near the Line of Control (LoC) and close to Ladakh, HCC has constructed three projects (Nimoo-Bazgo HEP, Chutak HEP and URI II) together which will generate 329MW for use in the region. These projects were dedicated to the nation by PM Narendra Modi. Work on the 45MW Nimoo-Bazgo HEP, India’s highest altitude dam, could be done only from June to October as the region results in road closure the rest of the months. To ensure continuity of the dam concreting works as per National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s instructions, HCC deployed a dewatering system and executed left non-overflow (LNOF) concreting work with a changed methodology. During the winter, the snow of the roads made heavy vehicles prone to skidding. Snow chains were fixed on the wheels of the earth-moving equipment. To prevent freezing of high-speed diesel fuel, a variant of aviation turbine fuel was mixed with HSD. Similarly, to protect the freshly poured concrete surface from the freezing weather, hot water curing was carried out and the surface covered with temporary insulation panel throughout the winter.
Working on nuclear power projects has different kinds of technical challenges. Having built over 65% of the installed nuclear power capacity of India, HCC has built India’s largest and first light water reactors. While constructing Kudankulam nuclear power plant, unbounded pre-stressing system was adopted for a reactor containment structure for the first time in the world. It had to refine the techniques and procedures for building pre-stressing system and grouting to achieve the required perfection with a full scale mock-up. The work required huge fabrication and erection wok for which the smallest components were certified with the authorised agencies. Construction of 22m radius steel liner dome weighing 90 tons and lifting it to 85m height to place on the top of reactor container building was one of the key achievements in this project.
Speaking about the state of today’s projects, he says, “Last three years, there are few or practically no tenders issued in hydro and nuclear power segments, although transport sector did see some life. Secondly, the tender award process has slowed down. The departments are taking more time to award the contract after bidding and sometimes they are retendered.”
However, HCC is positive that the current government is attempting to address various issues to accelerate the implementation of infrastructure project including land acquisition. “Last year we hardly bagged Rs 2,500 crore worth of awards. It could have been better. The good part is the Ministry of Road Transport is trying to push road development programme and NHAI has awarded contracts worth over Rs 18,500 crore last one year,” he adds.
Although HCC, on its part, is attempting to change some of the old methods of working, there are some things that are beyond its control. For instance, one of the old road projects where the original contract period is over, has been left lagging as land acquisition has seen little materialisation of 10-15%. As a norm, the infrastructure behemoth has set up a separate team to push for land acquisition and considers it a part of their activity. “The government fulfils its commercial obligation. But we help in the legwork and knock on every official’s door so as to ensure completion of the project,” says Karambelkar.
With an order backlog of around Rs 14,500 crore, the company is eager to take on more projects. “From simple cash contracts, we now have most on EPC basis, which means that we take total engineering responsibility. In EPC projects, the risks associated with the design and the engineering also have to be attended to. So one moves up the value chain, and also manage challenges associated with it,” says Karambelkar.
Citing the Mughal Road project, Karambelkar explains how the 84km stretch came alive once again as an alternative road linking the border territories of J&K to the rest of the country. “The client had provided the road alignment based on surveys done with remote sensing through satellite images. The sensing was not adequate in knowing how the gradient moves. We sent two teams of surveyors, who travelled the area on foot. Certain sections of this route was no man’s land and conditions were similar to an army operation. Despite these conditions the teams completed the survey.”
It’s very important to HCC that it offers its people challenges. “Engineering complexities is a godsend and a motivating factor. We provide the support they need to achieve their work. There is delegation of work and people are properly empowered,” he adds.
Simultaneously, environment is a subject that is close to HCC’s heart. It is the only Indian signatory member of the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate wherein it recognises the problems of water availability and sanitation pose challenges and risks, and in some instances, opportunities for business operations. The company is executing the Mumbai Naval dock project for reconstruction and completion of dry dock. For this project, it has installed a desalination plant that takes in water from the sea. The use of desalinated water for construction activities at DGNP site has reduced the stress on local aquifers, which would have otherwise catered to the water needs of the city. The intervention has helped to reduce the site’s dependency on external water sources, as Mumbai always faces scarcity.
So will HCC fill in the nomination form for CSR of the Year for its initiatives taken for the Construction Week Awards 2015? We shall wait and see.