Smart Cities Needed For World-Class Living Conditions

By Praveen Raman
In Infrastructure
October 15, 2015
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Egis is an engineering and consultancy group with a unique global offering spanning engineering, project structuring and operations services. In engineering and consulting, Egis works in all stages of projects in transport, real estate, urban development, industry, and in the fields of water, environment and energy. In a conversation with Praveen Raman, Mr. Ashish Tandon, Managing Director, Egis in India, shares his idea about the engineering sector and the challenges it faces. Edited excerpts:

Ashish Tandon

Ashish Tandon, MD, Egis in India

What are the core areas that your organization is focused on?

Egis in India is focused on delivering state-of-the-art engineering consultancy services in the many sectors like roads and highways, water, environment, rail, urban development, aviation, building engineering, GIS and data mining, and ports. In addition, we also operate a number of tolled highways in the country.

You are into highway projects too. What are the key challenges that you face in this business?

Egis is not involved in actual construction of highways; however, Egis is managing a large number of highway construction projects as the supervising consultant. Since highways have to span the countryside, a host of difficulties crop up during the construction. These include remote inaccessible areas such as Arunachal Pradesh (AP), troubled areas such as Assam, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, and geologically challenging areas like Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

A recent example of the third type of challenges as mentioned above was the collapse of a tunnel under construction in Himachal Pradesh where three workers were trapped inside and were rescued later on. The reason of the collapse can be attributed to the nature of the soil in the area.

Where do you put Indian highways in terms of load bearing capacity when measured against international parameters?

Indian highways are designed for the legal load carrying limits which are applicable for each category under Motor Vehicles Act. In comparison, internationally, highways are designed for the loads coming on them as per the types of vehicles plying on the highways in those countries. That is the key difference between the two.

Environmental clearance is a major hurdle for highways and port projects. Do you think the concerns are well placed?

Over the last decade or so, environmental clearance had certainly become a major issue for projects to move forward. However, since last year, a number of measures have been taken by the government to streamline and cut-short the procedure for obtaining environment clearance, the major among them being making the process online. This has already started showing results, as environment clearance no longer poses the same amount of challenge it did till recently.

Infrastructure projects normally take years to complete. Can we evolve a model through which it will take comparatively lesser time?

Infrastructure projects, especially the mega projects, get delayed for a variety of reasons. The obvious ‘model’ to expedite the projects would be to address these issues. Since Egis is involved in many mega projects like Chennai Metro, Mumbai Metro Line 3 etc., we have a fair idea of the causes for delays. There are, for example, delays in acquiring land for the project, environmental and forest clearances, delays in decision making by government agencies, the poor financial health of contractors/ developers/ Concessionaires etc. These have a huge bearing on the pace at which projects get implemented. Some of the other reasons include disruption due to terrorist activities, non-availability of certain key construction material like sand and aggregates, and poor project planning.

We have limited number of international airports in our country. What do you think the government can do to address it?

In fact, rather than international airports, there is a dire need of domestic airports in India. The volume of international traffic in India is by and large adequately handled by existing airports. However, a huge jump in domestic air traffic requires immediate augmentation in the airport capacity to handle the same. However, proper due-diligence regarding travel demand and route preferences need to be carried out before embarking on this augmentation process, so that we don’t have airports like Jaisalmer and Durgapur, which have been constructed with huge investment and few airlines availing them.

How do you see opportunity in ‘Smart City’ project?

India is one of the most populous countries in the world. To offer world-class living conditions and opportunities to such a large population, SMART Cities are the need of the hour.

Egis has over 50 years of experience is developing SMART Cities. In the recent past, Egis has been engaged as part of an advisory group established by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry in establishing the “Attributes of a Smart City”. Further, Egis has also been empanelled by Ministry of Urban Development for the implementation of the SMART City Projects. Egis, therefore, sees a huge opportunity in the SMART City rollout. Egis is also engaged in the development of the ICT part of Dholera, the first SMART City in India, and is looking forward to the possibility of getting to work on developing Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry into SMART Cities.

Metro is coming up in more cities now. How do you see it on cost benefit analysis?

Any MRTS in a city needs to be public funded since private participation in such projects is always unviable. Few examples of PPP projects in this sector are Hyderabad Metro, Delhi Airport Express line, Mumbai Metro line 1 and Rapid Metro. All of these projects have been cross subsidized with supplementary revenue streams like advertising and real estate development. As we all know, many of these projects are either being shelved or are facing problems. Talking of the benefit of such MRTS systems, it is pertinent to refer a study carried out by SEPT Ahmedabad on the Delhi Metro Phase I. It showed that the Phase I of Delhi Metro resulted in a reduction of 22% in the number of cars on the associated roads. Apart from the benefit of savings in Fuel Cost, there is a huge positive impact of reduced number of cars on environmental pollution.

What do you think about ‘Bharatmala’ project?

In addition to creating a huge cache of new projects for the highway sector, the Bharatmala project has two major objectives. The first is to enhance road connectivity in the strategic border areas, especially those neighboring Pakistan and China. The second is to provide road connectivity to and between the various ports along the coast line of India. These will foster greater economic activity in these regions.