A road network of about 3.314 million kilometres which makes it the proud owner of the third largest road network in the world is not a small achievement for a nation. But when the nation is very large and has a total land area of 3,287,263 sqkm, the story takes a 180 degree turn. Actually, India’s 0.66km of highway per sqkm of land gives it an edge in terms of density even over contries like the United States (0.65), China (0.16) and Brazil (0.20). But then, the sense of achievement must end there.
Why? Because, the quality of India’s roads leaves a lot to be desired. Chipped surfaces, huge craters, in-disciplined road users, randomly imported road technology, unskilled labour, burgeoning population, use of substandard materials, indifferent administration, unreliable toll systems (quite often), unresponsive commuters (they accept what they get), huge area and heavy traffic (more than what a normal healthy road can take) are some of the reasons. The most important aspect though is the health of the roads.
It’s not that efforts haven’t been made in this regard. They have been. Pune Expressway and Gujarat Highway are examples of sincerity when it comes to providing good infrastructure and safety for road mobility. Only, such genuine efforts have been far and few. It is a pity that many of today’s pucca roads cannot claim to have anything pucca in them. A sustained effort at providing a proper infrastructure cannot be noticed despite the amazing technology entering our country. “The reason is simple – nobody demands quality. The emphasis is only on construction,” says Rajesh Rohatgi, Senior Transport Specialist, Sustainable Development (South Asian Region), The World Bank.
Their roads and our roads:
The technical issue
Technology is one of the most important factors in the success or failure of India’s roads. Why is it that the roads in most of the countries of Europe, the US, Australia and even the Middle East show much better resistance to wear and tear than our roads? Why is it that the monsoon (monsoon did bring tremendous devastation with it in a few countries in the last few years but many addressed the issue with a focused approach and moved on) does not wreak such havoc on their roads as it does on ours? How is it that the technologies work well there and not in India? Some pertinent questions need expert opinions.
I don’t think we are using any obsolete or inferior technology in India . The major difference is the quality, finishing and workmanship of output. The main issue here is the lack of demand for quality and poor quality assurance system in the construction industry.— Rajesh Rohatgi
K Naren Babu, Deputy CEO, Tata Realty and Infrastructure (TRIL) Roads Pvt Ltd, says, “Although several products / technologies are entering / have entered India, there is always an issue with the approval/concurrence process in terms of time more than anything else, notwithstanding the cost being accrued either in addition or at some discount to the original proposal. Some of these technologies are – hot and cold recycling of flexible pavement, foam bitumen, stone matrix asphalt, fre-fabricated structures, several techniques of earth retaining (like RE wall, blocks, gabion walls, etc.), several techniques of slope protection, several new techniques of soil stablisation like-RBI-81 material, nano technology and Zycosoil anti-stripping product. Apart from the adequacy, the main issue is the uncertainty (perceived) of their adaptability to Indian conditions and the time and cost associated with their introduction. In suitable conditions, whenever and wherever, the technology is adaptable, it normally would lead to greater optimisation benefits.”
SS Raju, CEO – Infrastructure, Punj Lloyd too feels technology has entered the country and what is important is – investing in good equipment. “Equipment is one of the most crucial components in construction! The mechanised laying of both rigid and flexible (concrete & bituminous) pavements is the technology that has come in,” he says. “At Punj Lloyd, there is a huge equipment fleet, enabling prompt mobilisation to project sites around the world, and thereby, ensuring timely completion. We have 13 sets of bituminous road equipment and three sets of concrete equipment. The specialised fleet of equipment include cold milling machines, pavers capable of paving up to 12m, asphalt mixing plants up to a capacity of 160 TPH, batching plants up to a capacity of 120 m3/hr, slip form pavers, graders up to 190 HP, transit mixers and all other specialised equipment for road construction.”