The irony of NREGA scheme is that it may spur mechanisation in private sector projects. R Sarabeswar, Chairman, CCCL, says that labour shortages will plague urban projects.
Your construction activities have spanned many industries but it looks as though you have zoomed in on urban transport infrastructure. Is it a challenge to employ international-standard technology in our city systems?
For generations we have been strong and have acquired ample architecture that is in India. Flash forward to modern technology, and construction of the elevated portions in our Metro rail systems is as unambiguous as that of other bridges that are constructed at the railway stations. The technology India lacks right now is in the underground railway system, where very few contractors are available, and most of them migrate abroad to European countries where such systems are more prevalent. So we require support from them, and usually this entails equipment support. We utilise their services in an indirect way since they come along with equipment, and indigenise the process as required.
Sometimes a financial storm can boom for innovation and companies such as CCCL must have gotten innovative in order to weather that kind of storm, can you recall such a situation?
Today, the trouble in India is that we employ millions of people but employable people are very less, additionally, the government and central government agencies offer a Rs 100 per day programme for 100 days, to people who aren't willing to work.
We run a skill set centre. We go to villages, NGOs, etc, to recruit people at salaries of Rs 4,000, accommodation and absorption in the company.
Yet people are not willing to get out of their restricted hamlet to receive training and get a jobs because they feel that they get an assured compensation for 100 days of guaranteed work from the scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). Socially, the NREGA is commendable, but unfortunately it also has a negative impact.
People are now unwilling to move to urban areas where development is still ongoing, do you see this as a transitional period?
Jobs have been added for a social reasonâ€”because people do not have jobs. In projects that require larger equipment for excavations, cleaning of tanks and so on, we may not require too much human labour. For example, I have begun working on precast technology, which isn't very labour intensive. However, for operations that demand a larger number of people to work on them, we will inevitably fall short, and moving towards mechanisation will be the only thing bailing us out of the problem. Today, much of the labour is imported from Orissa and Bihar, but the faster these states develop and provide local opportunities, the more acute labour shortages will become. The construction sector is growing in two digits, but we can't sustain that if we don't mechanise faster.
Surely mechanisation has a huge cost impact?
The government has given a special tax concession to pre-engineered steel buildings, and there is no excise duty component. The government should similarly support precast technology, which can save money.
Was your Chennai Airport's air bridge project over the river a technological challenge?
Chennai Airport's second runway has to cross the Adyar river because it is shorter than the length required for takeoff and landing. So a bridge, constructed by us, was introduced where it is designed to enable even the biggest aircraft take off, the A380. It was a challenge for us because in Indian operations we find the required strength of concrete (usually of M35 or M40 strength) can be achieved in 28 days.
Concrete can be cured with ordinary water, but would normally take about 28 days. We achieved Mixed 60 (which is the Newton per sq mm, indicating the strength of the concrete) concrete in merely 24 hours by establishing boilers at the site, and cooling it back faster.
With an order book of Rs 4,200 crore, 14-year-old Consolidated Construction Consortium's (CCCL) speciality in airport and Metro rail projects is a recent trend The company has completed airport projects in Tiruchirapalli, Mangalore, Thiruvananthapuram and Dehradun, worked on the expansion of the Chennai Airport, and has bagged the order for the Goa Airport.