Fast Track Bridge Construction In India

Er. M.C. Bhide, Founder & Hon. Director General, Indian Institution of Bridge Engineers.

When one goes abroad and visits countries particularly like UK, Germany, France etc. in Europe and most importantly China and studies the construction of major bridges over rivers, mountains, creeks etc. and compares with similar Bridge Construction in India, major difference which one notices is that the time taken for completing major bridges in India is far more than for similar bridges abroad. It takes anywhere from 4 to 10 years for major bridge to be completed in India. Apart from the great & expensive delay in realizing the fruits of such completed bridge for Freight & Passenger Traffic, one has to consider the tremendous cost escalation that takes place during the time the bridge construction is started and the time the bridge is opened to traffic.

As we know in developing countries like ours there is cost escalation particularly in the cost of labour & materials and any delay in completion of a project has to suffer consequence of such cost escalation. On this background, there are many instances where dynamic leadership, innovative construction methods and use of modern machines have greatly reduced the period of construction.

Recently Savtri Bridge near Mahad, which was washed in flood was rebuilt to a schedule of six months, which was set up by the Hon’ble Minister of MORTH

I clearly remember that about 20 years back when Shri Nitin Gadkari was Hon’ble Minister of PWD, Govt. of Maharashtra (who is already known as a very dynamic & innovative Cabinet Minister in charge of M.O.R.T.H. And has accelerated construction of thousands of km of National Highways & Expressways in India) it brought a sea-change due to his dynamism and ability to innovate. During his period realizing that Public Works Department, Government of Maharashtra will not be able to do Fast Track Construction of 55 Flyovers in and around Mumbai, created a separate company called Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation and gave lot of powers to MSRDC of finalizing tenders, monitoring construction particularly payments to contractors and on the whole giving quick decisions whenever required.

I had close relationship with this organization and have seen that the construction period normally for a flyover in Mumbai which was 2/3 years, finally came down to 8 months. How was this done? To give an example, at that time piling was required to be done for every flyover in Mumbai, due to rock being available 10/15 metres below. The normal age old method of pile driving by hammer used to take 8/10 days per pile. The Hon’ble Minister sent engineers of MSRDC to other countries such as Singapore, Malaysia to study Fast Track Construction. It was then observed that there were modern piling machines, which used percussion method of boring for piles. These machines used to cost even up to a crore of rupees. MSRDC not only asked the Bridge Contractors to import these machines but also financed their import as MSRDC was well aware that the contractors may not have requisite finance to import such costly machine for construction of a flyover. Once these machines started the work, it was like a magic. These machines would bore one pile in a day or two. Thus instead of six months which was required to complete piling for a flyover, the period come down to 3/4 weeks.

PWD used to follow Indian Roads Congress (IRC) code of practice for design of bridges which required AA Class loading (loading of 70 tones Military Tank). With the modern warfare and with some common sense, it was argued that such a heavy loading will not occur on flyover in and around Mumbai, which is a Metropolitan City, since flyover is an alternative route for elimination of road crossing, if at all Military Tank has to travel on the road, this can also travel on the road below. Hence Class “A” loading for flyovers was adopted. Further having realized that there are many Codal provisions, which are required to be modernized particularly taking into consideration codes of practice adopted in developed countries such as Germany, France, and UK etc. Hon’ble Minister appointed a Committee of senior & experienced engineers under the chairmanship of Er. S.R. Tambe who was the then Secretary of Maharashtra, PWD. This committee studied all design aspects for flyovers carefully and prepared a modernized code for design of flyovers in and around Mumbai. This was adopted by MSRDC. All these changes reduced the size of various members of Bridges and considerable economy and expediency was achieved in Design & Construction of 55 Flyovers.

I can take a cue for the example of Maharashtra P.W.D. I had sent letters to all the P.W.Ds in India enclosing a copy of Tambe Committee Report to take advantage and modernize their Design Codes to bring economy and expediency in construction of flyovers in their State. This I had done as Founder and Hon.Director General of Indian Institution of Bridge Engineers which had organized a National Seminar on “Design & Construction of Grade Separators” in the year 1992. However we did not get any response from any PWD in India.

Mumbai-Pune Expressway
When PWD had called for tenders from private parties for the total project on Turnkey basis including financing tender of Reliance was Rs. 3600 crores. Having felt that this price was too high, the Hon’ble Minister asked MSRDC to do the project under their control inviting tenders for number of reaches thus sub-dividing the total expressway length in smaller portions. Very well-known construction companies like L&T, HCC and others were allotted the jobs. MSRDC borrowed money from the banks to ensure adequate funding. I am fully aware about the dedication & devotion of the then MSRDC engineers particularly Er. P.L. Bongirwar who was the Technical Chief of the project. MSRDC engaged minimum staff and the decisions were prompt & quick. It is well known that in spite of many hurdles and problems including land acquisition, this project was completed at a cost of approximately Rs. 1800 crores i.e. about half the cost if the project was given to a private company on turn-key basis.

I was in the All India Service of Railways and have heard stories how the Indian Railways completed the construction of Assam Railway Link which was very crucial after partition of India & Pakistan. I have also heard stories of the then Chairman Railway Board late Er.Karnal Singh and Member Er. B.C. Ganguly fixing alignment of the bridges by aerial inspection and giving quick decision about finalizing alignment, which are well known among engineers of Indian Railways.

We have also known how Er. E-Sreedharan the then CMD of Konkan Railway got more than 700 bridges constructed in most difficult terrain of Konkan mostly undulating. It was mainly due to the Innovative Management Methods that he had adopted. He got separate Telephone line installed for Konkan Railway to accelerate communication, giving fax machine to each Regional Chief Engineer and giving quick decisions particularly the tenders being approved within 24 hrs on Fax as internet did not exist at that time.

Fast Tracking Bridge Construction in India
From all the above, we can list out The Causes and Remedies for Ensuring Fast Track Construction of Bridges in India:

Mental Set-Up of Designers & Constructors
The most important is the mental set-up of designers & constructors. If they are full of motivation having excellent & dynamic leadership, they are capable of doing wonders. Recently Savtri Bridge near Mahad, which was washed in flood was rebuilt to a schedule of six months, which was set up by the Hon’ble Minister of MORTH. During my 33 years in Indian Railways, I felt that if all the officers quickly disposed the files particularly for projects, it would greatly help. We all know that efficient Managers, who are regarded as very successful, are well known to take quick decisions and get them implemented. Here accountability at every level particularly in Government Departments including finance, who are mainly the owners of bridges, is very much required.

Adequate Powers should be Delegated to

I have observed during my professional career of nearly 35 years in Engineering that there is reluctance on the part of higher Govt. authorities to delegate powers to officers down below for fast track construction of Major Bridges. Adequate powers should be delegated to Site-in-Charges. In private companies delegation of powers is done particularly to Site Engineers.

Modernizing and Updating of our Design Codes
Modernizing and updating of our design codes is very necessary. Tremendous delay in completion of Passighat Bridge for Border Roads Organization because of scour depth problem is a classic case where the bridge was completed after a long period of 13 years. Indian Institution of Bridge Engineers had conducted Round Table Conferences in Delhi and Mumbai to highlight the subject. Though so many years have passed as I have given to understand, there is no change in the relevant clauses of the code.

Quick And Reasonable Settlement of Contractor’s Claims
In India we find that the top officers are reluctant to delegate their powers to their deputies and want to keep all such powers constantly in their hands for obvious reasons. It is necessary that powers are delegated to various officers as per their levels so that quick decisions are given. Today we find that the site engineer in charge refers every contractual claim to higher authorities to avoid responsibility instead of recommending rightful claim which would help faster progress of work. About claims of the contractors the tendency is to refuse such claims asking the contractors to refer the matter to Arbitration. As we all know till today Arbitration used to take 2 to 3 years for the award to be finalized. One of the reasons for delay being interest of the lawyers engaged to delay the matter so that they draw higher fees for their presence. The role of Finance Department is very important as financial concurrence is required for decisions which involve financial aspects. I have seen during my career in the railways that Finance Officer particularly one who has worked on deputation in Public Sector Undertakings or had his education abroad would decide the matter and settle the claim promptly without refusing to concur even lustful claim of the contractors. In fact I feel that just as training is given to the engineers in Project Management similar type of training should be given to Finance officers (particularly in the Indian Railways as pre audit is required by Finance Department) for every decision revolving money matters.

Contract Documents
I had organized a National Seminar on “Unfiled Contract Documents” for Civil Engineering Projects in India sometime in 1984 in Maharashtra State Centre of Institution of Engineers(India) in Mumbai as we had found very diverse practices of various Government departments in their contract documents. 33 years have passed since then but I find that barring adoption of FIDIC documents for World bank and Asian Bank aided projects, many of the Government departments have draconian contract provisions denying contractors about payment of interest on delayed contractual payments, greatly delayed or rightful claims in account bills denied and greatly delayed final bills. Though some improvement has been made over the years, it is still not adequate to accelerate the construction. After all any contractor runs his business on payments earned for his work. Prompt payment of bills is like oxygen to a contractor. If good contractors are paid their bills promptly and their rightful claims are settled immediately, they do fast track contract work, which is in their own interest to save extra overhead costs due to delay in completion of a project

Delay in Approval of Bridge Designs & Drawings
It is observed that whenever designs for the bridge projects have to be submitted by the contractors to departmental engineer, it takes unduly lot of time in writing letters for small corrections delaying the final approval of design as well as drawings. In my own career I used to call engineers of both the parties to sit across and I used to tell them that I will not allow them to leave the room (like the selection of Pope) till they finalize the designs. I remember that this method used to work well and designs & drawings used to get approved much faster. It is accepted in most of the developed countries that Codal provisions are for guidance and should be used to achieve the spirit in these provisions. I have been close to many Indian & Foreign Bridge Designers from UK, Germany etc. who were fed up with the red tape approach of the departmental engineers.Many times the work is held up at the site for weeks & months for delayed approval of designs and drawings.

Attitude of Young Bridge Engineers
One more phenomenon recently happening is that young bridge engineers like to work in the air-conditioned office of their company using computers and are reluctant to go to the site to do hard work under adverse conditions, staying in temporary quarters and being away from their families. Many of these bridge engineers rely more on computer solutions rather than the physical feeling and strong common sense, which are the basic strengths of successful bridge engineers. Recently in I.I.B.E.’s programme in Delhi, Dr. Mike Schlaich in his lecture on Monumental Cable Stayed Bridge over river mentioned that successful bridge engineers hardly get any appreciation from the society at large like those in the management field. Indian Institution of Bridge Engineers (I.I.B.E.) had started Most Outstanding Bridge National Awards Competition to give trophies & awards to successful Bridge Contractors/Owners/Designers for completion of outstanding bridge. Unfortunately due to lack of response and many other reasons the same could not be continued beyond 10 years. I would strongly recommend that MORTH having National Highways Authorities and having a very dynamic and decisive Cabinet Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari should start such National Competition and reward right Bridge Engineers who complete major projects expeditiously and successfully. India is a great country having tremendous potential for development of Roads & Bridges and I look forward to the coming years where Fast Track Construction particularly on bridges would become a normal practice.

We have great tradition of bridge builders of many companies who constructed great bridges abroad in countries like Bangladesh, Myannar, Malaysia etc. I have seen Bridge Engineers at site working in sun and rain many times up to 9.00PM. Most of them rarely take Sunday as a holiday but are seen at site; it is because they have dedication & devotion to their Bridge Engineering work.

I have highlighted some of the problems/difficulties in achieving Fast Track Construction of Major bridges. There would be many more such problems/difficulties, which will have to be surmounted. Soil-breaking ceremony for Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project is being held by Prime Ministers of India & Japan. This project will cost one lakh crore rupees and will involve construction of large number of bridges to cross rivers & creeks on the route. Hence it is of paramount interest & need to ensure fast track construction of these bridges overcoming all these problems.