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Awareness creation is the biggest challenge

Awareness creation is the biggest challenge

Shahrokh Bagli, Chief Technology Officer, Strata Geosystems India feels that as the infrastructure sector revives, the demand curve for geosynthetic products will also expand.

What is the market potential for geosynthetic materials in the country?
Currently, the demand is much less than the supply. We all have an installed capacity, but are not able to sort of utilise that fully because the demand still has to pick up locally. Where Strata is concerned, fortunately we are affiliated with Strata of the US and are exporting quite a bit of our material. We have geogrids and geocells. We produce quality products and that helps. But otherwise the local market at this juncture is not as good as we would wish it to be.

Going forward, do you see local demand picking up?
Infrastructure projects are picking up. We are trying to create awareness through several forums. We are now also toying with the idea of having special sessions to educate the railways sector. And by this awareness, we would like to see the demand picking up. But, the main thing is that we need to have a unified code of practice and we need to sort of encourage people to use geosynthetics; but of course, use geosynthetics where they are required and not just arbitrarily. So, I do see the demand to be definitely on the rise within the next seven to ten years. And, I hope the curve is expanded.

Could you please elaborate on the point about avoiding arbitrary use of geosynthetic materials?
You see there is a flip side to this coin also. For instance, people hear of geotextiles. And in the detail of a drawing they just put geotextiles in a manner where it doesn´t help at all. Geotextiles should be applied in a way where they serve a particular useful purpose. You just can´t put anything for the sake of putting anything. It has to have a definite application. Like there should be an application of separation, filtration or reinforcement. Then only it makes sense. Like for example in a pavement. You cannot put a wrong kind of a geogrid or a geotextile and say that I have strengthened my pavement. You see, this is a science. You have to prove that your calculation of application of geosynthetics is definitely going to be of certain use and this is the advantage that you are going to get in numerical terms. That´s how it should be.

At a time when demand is still picking up, who are your primary clients?
Fortunately, where my organisation is concerned, our quality has been speaking for itself. Now we are a company that provides you a total geosynthetics solution. We are the manufacturers. We also do design and installations. Since we are a total solutions firm, we do get people, particularly infrastructure developers, who would like to work with us. We make our own fascia and have our own patents. Or I wouldn´t call them patents, as it´s very difficult to get patents but at least where geocells are concerned, we are heading towards that. But as such, our main clients are the highway developers. And there we are market leaders in making reinforced soil structures for grade separators. As Strata, I would say, our main client is IRB Infrastructure as developer and contractor. IRB Infrastructure has separate companies that also do contracting work. We are their main suppliers, installers and designers.

How long has Strata been in the Indian market?
We have been here since 2004. It´s a considerable period of time. We are quite an old company in India. Our joint venture company in the US, Glen Raven, has been around for 135 years. Of course we have been in technical textiles, and they have been manufacturing geosynthetics for more than 25 years. Then they came into India and we set up a factory in 2009 to start the manufacturing of geogrids. And now our geogrids are of such superior quality that our material is being exported to several countries including the US. We have done a lot of research on geocells, like actually designing every perforation. And if a perforation is in the geocell, that has to have a scientific reason as to why it is there. We have a special texturizing pattern also to optimise the function of the geocell for load carrying. So we have got assembly lines for geocells and geogrids in Daman. We are soon setting up another manufacturing facility, hoping that we can enlarge our market, from another place in Gujarat.

Twelve years is a long time for any company in a market. Are the people you work with such as contractors better aware about geosynthetic materials today?
Twelve years ago, the scenario was quite different. Now the awareness is very much there and the NHAI has put in its specifications that it´s allowing this. The main thing that sells geosynthetics is that there are economies incurred. Like for example, you have a grade separator. You make a wall of reinforced soil. It is definitely cheaper than a reinforced concrete wall. Compared to a reinforced concrete wall, it functions better and provides more flexibility. That has its advantages. The structure can take differential settlements. You don´t need specialised ground treatment for it. Well, everybody sees the advantages – the cost and the functional advantages – and they go for it.

When it comes to geosynthetics, experts believe that India is where the developed Western economies were 25 years ago. Do you subscribe to that view?
If you see Europe and the US, and particularly Japan and China, their use of geosynthetics is more like a religion than anything else. We are quite far behind. And that is why we are trying to inculcate this culture of geosynthetics through various forums.

Another concern is India losing out to countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in geosynthetics manufacturing just as it did in readymade garments, as they have proven themselves to be far more cost competitive…
Some anti-dumping duties have to be put in place as we can´t afford to be inundated with cheap stuff. As a very cost-conscious country, we always go to Level 1. But we fail to see that the quality of Level 1 may not be the required quality. That is why we have to be very particular and we would like anti-dumping duties. Believe me, India-made geosynthetic products are quality products. But quality comes at a cost.

You often observe that use of geosynthetic materials in our roads and railways will help reduce fatalities during accidents.
Geosynthetics definitely goes a long way in preventing embankment failures. At the same time, you get economies in earthworks also. You use less earth. Now of course causes of derailments can be several. There could be track fractures, misalignments, etc. But when it comes to your technical reason, geosynthetics will definitely take care of that, and reduce the cost of accidents. Very rarely – and that too, due to certain extraneous reasons – you would get some sort of a distress in a geosynthetic structure. It has been proven in the US and Japan that while concrete structures have failed, reinforced soil structures have withstood the worst of earthquakes. And there can be no worse earthquakes than in Japan or California.

What are the main marketing challenges for geosynthetic materials here?
In one word: awareness! People are still not aware of the benefits of using geosynthetics.

– MANISH PANT

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