Encounter With Engineers

The Challenge Specialist

September 2012
In the next in a series of interviews with prominent civil engineers, Janaki Krishnamoorthi speaks to Aspun Battiwalla, Vice President-Projects, Ramky Infrastructure Ltd.

Delivering a high-quality job in the least possible time and at the lowest possible cost” – Aspun Battiwalla, Vice President - Projects, Ramky Infrastructure Ltd, sums up every civil engineer’s challenge succinctly. “In the earlier days, time used to be the essence of every project but never a constraint,” he goes on. “But today, with the availability of technology upgrades, sophisticated equipment and machinery, every customer aims at reducing the time frame. The dependency on manual labour has also gone down considerably. However, finding the bare minimum labour required to execute projects is getting tougher. This could be a major challenge in the coming days.”

Challenges, though, are par for the course for Battiwalla, who has successfully responded to several of them, right from his first project: the construction of a 500 mw power plant for Tata Power. He has since handled a large variety of projects; from residential complexes, commercial buildings and industrial plants to research labs, boiler houses, warehouses, silos, chimneys, roads, bridges, water storage reservoirs, drainages, effluent treatment plants (ETPs), and sewage treatment plants (STPs). While each project is uniquely demanding, building roads and bridges has been the most challenging, according to Battiwalla. “Here, one has to closely monitor a huge fleet of equipment and machinery and the interdependency of various types of equipment makes execution very crucial with little room for any lapse in planning. This sector also requires the maximum ‘people management skill’, where the staff, operators and external social elements need to work in sync, without which the costs would shoot up drastically.”

Some of Battiwalla’s major projects include Tata Motors’s plant in Thane and Pimpri; Global Boards’ Mahad plant; Glaxo’s administrative building in Worli, Mumbai; Kalpataru Habitat in Parel, Mumbai; the Bank of Baroda headquarters in BKC, Mumbai; the development of three major software parks in Chennai, Pune and Airoli for Patni Computer Systems; and an STP in Nagole, Hyderabad, for the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board (HMWSSB). Though he says his dream project – an iconic structure of epic proportions that would stand as a distinct landmark or monument – still eludes him, he agrees that it has been a rewarding career. “Working smart to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from my actions has always paid off for me and this has been my guiding principle too,” says the 49-year-old who holds the No. 3 position at Ramky today. He shares his views and experiences in civil engineering and construction with CW...

Omnipresent profession

Civil engineering is the basic need of any field. It has a role to play in every industry and even in our day-to-day necessities. Hence, this field will only keep booming. This is why I opted for this profession. Besides, I was never keen on a desk job and in this profession we spend a considerable time on the field and it is there that we learn a lot. Youngsters entering this field should start at the bottommost rung in the ladder and learn from ex­perience. Today, youngsters are in too much of a hurry to become project managers without understanding fully what the position demands. One should remember that there are lives at stake and any lapse in construction can lead to accidents and disasters.

Technological advances

Of late, we have been keeping pace with technological developments in other developed countries. Designing and building has become easier, faster and more economical owing to many innovations in RCC designs and with the availability of new software. Combining RCC and structural steel in construction makes execution faster and aesthetically more beautiful. However, we have a long way to go in technological breakthroughs in pre-engineered buildings. For instance, in China a 30-storey hotel was built in just 15 days and now they are planning to construct a 220-floor residential complex in just three months. All this is being done by using prefabrication methods where a large section of the building is fabricated in a factory atmosphere and assembled at site.

If this is implemented successfully in India, it can revolutionise our construction in­­dus­try. But it is not happening because of the the huge initial invest­­ments required.

Material and equipment makeover

The availability of many new materials has also changed the scenario. Fusion-bonded epoxy reinforcement steel eradicates the problem of corrosion, reduces maintenance costs and increases durability. A wide range of waterproofing material and methodology has replaced cement-based layers. High-performance paints and good looking artificial tiles are replacing natural stone; and high-performance glass is replacing old-fashioned masonry and plastered surfaces in the facades of buildings. Also, fully automated concrete batching plants coupled with transit mixers and concrete pumps have replaced the age-old practice of undertaking concreting activities with a large contingent of labour. Apart from saving time, even quality improves significantly by eliminating human errors. Reinforcement fabrication equipment is fast replacing manual cutting and bending methods. Road works are now undertaken in larger volumes and at a faster pace by installing high-end crushing plants, hot-mix plants, wet mix plants, pavers and compactors, all of which are now largely automated with better quality output. On the whole, the construction industry in India has undergone a sea change. Quality and speed have improved significantly without any ab­normal in­crea­se in cost of construction.

Project portfolio

Some major projects handled
  • Tata Electric Company (now Tata Power )-500 MW power plant (Unit 6) Trombay, Mumbai: Civil and structural steel works for turbine generator (TG) and steam generator (SG) buildings, silo foundations, construction of jetty, approach road and ancillary works
  • Tata Engineering & Locomotive Co (TELCO) (Now Tata Motors) Thane: Construction of warehouse, research lab, extension of administrative buildings and parking sheds for ex-port vehicles
  • TELCO Plant Pimpri: Structural steel works
  • Global Board new plant Mahad: Construction of main factory building , raw material godowns, finished product stores, refurbishing utility building and DG building, ETP, water storage reservoirs, boiler house, silos, housing colony, pipes and cable bridges, administrative block and infrastructure works like roads, drainages, etc.
  • Kalpataru Habitat, Parel Mumbai: Construction of two multi-storied towers with car parking, club houses, swimming pool, tennis courts over car parking structure and landscaping
  • Rajeev Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Kadapa: Construction of 750 bedded hospital buil­ding and ancillary structures
  • Aranya Bhavan, Hyderabad: Construction of forest head quarters complex
  • HMWSSB: 172 MLD sewage treatment plant, Nagole: Built on UASB technology
  • Darjeeling Water Supply and Pumping Scheme (Phase II): Survey, planning, designing, installation and construction of all civil electrical, mech­anical and allied works
  • Execution of Package-15-Bela-Govindgarh-Churhat (SH-52) and Rewa-Sirmor-Dabhore Road Project (Bela-Govindghar-Churhar Road)
Track record: Aspun F Battiwalla

  • BE (Civil) from Manipal University, Jaipur (1985)
  • Master of Science in Construction Management from Oklahoma State University, USA (1988)
  • 1987-1988: MGR Inc, Oklahoma (part-time assignment)
  • 1988-1994: Project Manager, Shapoorji Pallonji & Co Ltd
  • 1994 to 1998: Project Manager, Kalpataru Constructions Overseas Pvt Ltd
  • 1998-2005: Joint Principal Consultant, Stup Consultants Ltd
  • 2005 to date: Ramky Infrastructure Ltd. Joined as General Manager-Projects, Southern Zone and in 2007 became Vice President-Projects all India
Challenging projects

Project: 500-mw power plant (Unit 6), Trombay, Mumbai
Client: Tata Electric Company Ltd (TEC) (now Tata Power Company Ltd)
Period: 1988-1989
Cost: Rs 110 crore (approx)
Contractor: Shapoorji Pallonji & Company Ltd (SPCL)
Background: SPCL was entrusted with civil and structural steel works for the turbine generator (TG) building, steam generator (SG) building, silo foundations, jetty and other ancillary works.
Interesting features: This was the first fuel-based power project of such a huge capacity in India at the time. The turbine, with a weight of 280 mt, transported by sea had to be hauled from a specially constructed jetty and approach road to the TG building.
Challenges: Transporting the heavy turbine from the jetty to the TG building was an exacting exercise. It was lifted by an electrical overhead travelling (EOT) crane, specially fabricated by SPCL and loaded on a multi-axle trailer imported from Germany, and then moved to the TG building. “In order to prevent any tripping and consequent mishap, the turbine had to be moved slowly at a speed of 3 km per hour,” shares Battiwalla. “Further, the approach road was built on reclaimed land and we were worried about its capacity to withstand the heavy load. It took us one-and-a-half days to cover a distance of hardly .75 km. But the operation was completed successfully and it was the proudest moment of my career, more so as this was my first project after graduation!” Completing the project on time was another major challenge. “The plant was slated to generate a net profit of Rs 25 lakh per day,” he adds. “So any delay in completing the project meant a loss to the tune of Rs 40 lakh per day including interest costs. So we were all working under tremendous pressure.” The project was completed a year ahead of its scheduled deadline.

Project: Sewage Treatment Plant, Nagole, Hyderabad
Client: Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board (HMWSSB)
Period: 2005-2009
Cost: Rs 48 crore
Contractor: Ramky Infrastructure Ltd
Background: The 172-mld plant spread over 67 acre was developed using the upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) technology that requires large parcels of land.
Interesting features: It was India’s second largest and Asia’s third largest plant at the time in terms of capacity built on this technology. Further, the biogas produced as a by-product was captured and used as an energy source to run a biogas genset that helped in partly meeting the power supply required to operate the plant.
Challenges: The project ran into several hurdles including land acquisition problems and considerable time was lost in resolving them. Then, the original design consultants were sacked by the client and Ramky was entrusted with the design task too, which resulted in several deviations and extra items requiring approvals. So the project was delayed by two years. “The biggest challenge was to minimise losses as we had quoted low in this project (18 per cent),” reveals Battiwalla. “But in civil works alone, I managed to claim an extra Rs 3.50 crore. As this was an item-rate contract, the government did not specify the quantities in the earthworks. They said excavation to the tune of 2 lakh cu m but filling was only to the extent of 35,000 cu m within the premises. The balance excavated material had to be carted out, which became an extra item and thus we gained Rs 3.50 crore. Moreover, we were able to dispose of the excavated material in adjoining private land that had huge craters and pits. While the property owner’s plot was levelled, we did not have to go too far to dump the material. The project was finally completed at break-even.”

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