The festival, organised by FIRST Construction Council in New Delhi from October 15-16, successfully brought together the public and private sector to discuss probable resolutions to impediments faced by the infrastructure sector.

Last year, infrastructure think tank FIRST Construction Council (FCC) approached the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, with a loud and clear premise: To create a much simpler environment for companies to set up their base and operate in India. And what began as a small discussion evolved into what is popularly known as the India Construction Festival (ICF).

Celebrating construction

The India Construction Festival, organised by FCC on October 15 and 16, 2019, comprised four sub-events: The India Roads Conference; CONSTRUCTION WORLD Global Awards; CONSTRUCTION WORLD Leadership Summit; and the EQUIPMENT INDIA Awards. FY19 was a challenging time for India Inc. The issues were many, ranging from liquidity crunch, rising bad loans, loan defaults (principal as well as interest), slowing capex and slower automobile growth to delayed or stalled projects, financially inviable projects and an insolvency-like situation for a few large organisations. Despite all the obstacles, uncertainties and challenges, a few entities managed to persevere and prevail, posting growth and exhibiting excellence. And many of these companies, from the universe of construction, contracting, engineering and building materials, were honoured for their outstanding work at the India Construction Festival in Delhi. Also, for the second consecutive year, CONSTRUCTION WORLD associated with New York-based Engineering News-Record, popularly known as ENR, the world’s oldest and largest circulated engineering magazine, to recognise top international design and contracting firms.

From the stalwarts...
Delivering the inaugural address at the India Construction Festival, Pratap Padode, Founder & President, FCC, said, “The Indian construction industry is not only one of the fastest growing sectors but will continue to invite new investments. And India will have to explore new turf to enhance investments in infrastructure. The country needs a strong pipeline to attract leading global engineering firms. Lack of funding continues to be the principal impediment in the way of completion of infrastructure projects.”

While he laid emphasis on the need to examine ways in which technology can be leveraged to improve the Indian construction industry, Padode went on to add, “FCC will share an extensive report with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on proposed resolutions of impediments based on suggestions received from stakeholders at the India Construction Festival.”

The India Roads Conference was inaugurated by event guest and keynote speaker Nagendra Nath Sinha, Chairman, NHAI. In his address to the audience, which kicked off the conference perfectly, Sinha said, “The highways sector will contribute significantly to robust infrastructure development. Ministries and departments need to come out of silos and explore inter-modalities to address India’s transportation needs. We are looking at financial returns before making investments in roads and highways projects, and rationalising land requirements in future projects. In order to squeeze more out of highways, the Government has decided on 100 per cent electronic tolling. Also, MoRTH and NHAI will work with eight state governments on ‘One Nation, One (RFID) Tag’ to enhance toll collection on highways. Further, all HAM bids brought out by NHAI in FY19 and FY 20 have succeeded, and NHAI will continue with the model.”

The guest of honour at the CONSTRUCTION WORLD Leadership Summit was Dr Anup Wadhawan, Secretary, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India. In his talk, he said, “The construction sector is critical to various goals of the economy, and there is a need to introspect upon the reasons behind construction projects being stuck and misusing investor money.” He also emphasised upon the need for the Indian construction industry to set higher standards to be recognised globally.

For his part, Steve Jones, Senior Director, Industry Insights Research, Dodge Data & Analytics, said, “The construction industry is at one of the most remarkable points in its history.” Elaborating on the various trends that can be adopted, he said, “BIM can help reduce rework, the most toxic element of construction projects, in India; project modelling helps consolidate costs into a single source; laser scanning is an effective way of exploring equipment access; and 3D printing of structures is the future of construction.”

Awards and recognition
At its core, the India Construction Festival was a celebration of victory, with an audience of about 800. Over 60 awards and honours were conferred upon leading construction companies, global design and engineering firms and building materials and equipment companies.

From top government officials, policymakers and regulators to captains of the construction industry, the overarching sentiment was one of positivity and optimism. What’s more, the event was the perfect opportunity for the construction fraternity to network—ensuring that everyone was a winner!

Part 2

SESSION: Roads - The Uphill Tasks: Tunnels, Mountainous Terrains & Bridges
Panellists: Suresh Sharma, Chief Principal Technical, Louis Berger; S Paramsivan, Managing Director, Afcons Infrastructure; Pradeep Sharma, President, Action Construction Equipment, and Michiya Kitayama, Expert, JICA
Moderator: Pravesh Minocha, Executive Vice-Chairman, Feedback Highways OMT

  • At a mere 2 per cent, India has one of the lowest spends on project design; developers need to allocate adequate time to detailed project planning (DPR) to avoid surprises during the execution stage.
  • Construction projects must be thoroughly thought through during the design stage itself.
  • We need to allocate utmost priority to skill development and use of technology in the construction sector.
  • Equipment manufacturers have a responsibility to train machine operators in handling new technologies.
  • Existing terms of EPC contracts deter global majors from bidding for tunnelling projects in India.
  • Japanese experience and knowhow can be critical in supporting highway projects in hostile mountainous terrain.
  • Both speed and safety have to be accorded equal importance in project execution.
  • SESSION: Raising Roadblocks, Raising Funds
    Panellists: Sandeep Upadhyaya, Managing Director & CEO, Centrum Infrastructure; Bharat Singhal, Director, BRM India Ratings, and Pratap Padode, President, FCC Moderator: Sameer Bhatnagar, Partner, Transport & Logistics, KPMG

  • After the surge in the award of contracts and rapid expansion registered in India’s roads and highways sector from FY2015-19, growth gradually tapered out in FY2020.
  • The changed outlook for the roads and highways sector was on account of concerns over an economic slowdown and several existing and upcoming projects facing funding constraints.
  • Arbitration and disputes held back a huge amount of resources.
  • More progressive measures such as contractors being allowed 100 per cent exit on the successful execution of a project are required on the policy front.
  • With banks gaining access to more liquidity in the past six months, there is a need to ensure that the money was properly channelled into funding infrastructure projects.
  • Introduction of the hybrid annuity model (HAM) and toll-operate-transfer have significantly helped mitigate risk for developers.
  • SESSION: Challenges to Connectivity
    Panellists: RK Pandey, Member Projects, NHAI; Ramesh Palagiri, Managing Director, WIRTGEN; Hardik Agarwal, Director, Dineshchandra R Agarwal Infracon, Ashok Emani, Principal (ESG), National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), and Anirudh Reddy, Founder & CEO, Einsite Moderator: Sumit Banerjee, Former CEO, Reliance Infra

  • Despite challenges of land acquisition, financing and dispute resolution, NHAI is confident of achieving its road construction targets.
  • To prevent delays, NHAI has decided to award a new contract only after 90 per cent of the land has been pre-acquired for the project.
  • Key issues such as challenges in land acquisition and quality control have to be addressed with urgency to ensure the continued success of HAM projects.
  • Bharatmala’s launch has made contractors more receptive to imbibing new construction technologies.
  • The industry seriously needs to consider recycling to meet the shortage of aggregates such as sand.
  • Actionable insights obtained through the use of technology could help counter project delays.
  • In the context of the three factors of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), there is a need to integrate international benchmarks in sustainability and ethical practices in road and highway projects.
  • Part 3
    SESSION: Tech Infiltration in Construction
    Panellists: Nimish Gupta, Managing Director, RICS South Asia; Sunil Takyar, Managing Dierector, Bechtel; Atul Bhatnagar, Assistant Vice President, Shapoorji Pallonji; Manish Madhogaria, Chief Financial Officer & Executive Director, CDE, and Dikshu Kukreja, Principal, CP Kukreja Architects Moderator: Pam Radtke Russel, Deputy Editor, Industry Sector, Engineering News Record (ENR)

  • From being a net exporter of construction workers, India has become a net importer; adequate attention needs to be paid to skill development.
  • Coordination between academia and industry has to improve notably to improve the environment for R&D.
  • New and emerging technologies must be explored to enhance efficiencies.
  • There is a need to look for alternatives in the likelihood of aggregates such as sand running out in the near future.
  • The industry should look at indigenising construction projects by incorporating time-tested elements of local craftsmanship and architecture.
  • SESSION: Policy: Panacea or Peril
    Panelists: Vijay Agrawal, Executive Director, Equirus Capital; Sriram Kuchimanchi, Founder, Smarter Dharma, and Pratap Padode, President, FCC
    Moderator: Vikash Chandra, PPP & Finance Expert, Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs

  • Rollout of Real-Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) is a welcome development from the perspective of retail investors.
  • As investors expect a certainty of income when they put their money on REITs or Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvIT)s, pricing strategy is important.
  • Policy measures such as the Real-Estate (Regulation and Development) Act or RERA have helped boost investor confidence.
  • At present, rental commercial space is doing well owing to curtailment of supply, while the residential property market is facing a situation of oversupply.
  • Effective policy interventions delivered something for both promoters and investors.
  • With over 50 different regulations in areas such as water conservation, there is a dire need for uniform policy across the country.
  • SESSION: Skill vs. Goals: Does Your Economy Have the Skill to Match Domestic and Overseas Development Targets
    Panellists: Ravi Sehgal, Chairman, Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC); Raj Kumar Sharma, President & CEO, Indo Latin American Chamber of Commerce; Sumit Mazumdar, Chairman & Managing Director, Tractors India Ltd (TIL), DK Sen, Director & Senior Executive Vice-President (Infra), L&T, and Dr Gagan Preet Kaur, Urban Skilling Specialist, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA)

  • At present, skill training in India is non-aspirational; the Government and industry need to work as equal partners to improve things.
  • Although the Government is willing to listen to industry, thinking at the ground level also has to change.
  • Skill training can be further facilitated through cluster formation.
  • As wage loss is a major concern among construction workers, the Government is increasingly focusing on imparting on-site training.
  • Skilling of the workforce is essential for India to meet its economic and social development goals.
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