Afcons Infrastructure Limited, now a Shapoorji Pallonji Group Company, began its journey as a civil construction firm in 1959. Over its almost 6-decade long journey, the company has grown leaps and bounds into one of India’s foremost technology enabled engineering companies. Afcons is ranked 10th globally in Marine and 22nd in Bridges sector a testament to the company’s dedication towards providing reliable infrastructure.
Afcons executes and is engaged in engineering and construction activities across marine works, roads & highways, elevated and underground metro, bridges (also flyovers and viaducts), LNG tanks, oil & gas, tunnels & hydro works, besides general civil engineering and industrial structures. As a major stakeholder in the development of infrastructure in the country, The Masterbuilder caught up with Giridhar Rajagopalan, Executive Director (Technical), AFCONS Infrastructure Ltd., to understand how AFCONS is at the vanguard of India’s green movement, its execution plans for the Mokama Bridge Project and other pressing issues that are plaguing growth. The excerpts of the interview are below.
Can you tell us more about why sustainable infrastructure is something we should be discussing now?
We are all aware that Infrastructure – roads, bridges, ports etc drive economic growth of a country. However, as our planet faces climate change and diminishing resources, to achieve development our infrastructure needs to be sustainable.
Sustainable infrastructure enables good economic development and job creation, has positive impact for the community, improves the quality of life for citizens, lowers carbon and environmental footprint, triggers green technology and innovation and promotes a more effective and efficient use of financial resources.
Studies have demonstrated that it is possible to plan, design, construct and maintain infrastructure in a way that properly manages any potentially negative environmental, social, health, safety impacts and risks while enhancing directly and indirectly related positive impacts or benefits. We at AFCONS understand this, which is why – AFCONS in its role as an EPC Contractor – has supported the development of sustainable infrastructure around the world for more than five decades.
Sustainable infrastructure is more than just a checklist or a sense of do no harm to the environment. Could you talk about how AFCONS is working on a framework for developing sustainable infrastructure?
Typically, when an EPC Contractor comes into the picture, the Owner has already taken several critical decisions which impact the sustainability footprint. Though this severely limits potential contributions as an EPC Contractor, Afcons incorporates sustainability in the way it designs, plans and executes construction of Infrastructure. The emphasis is on optimal usage of resources while minimizing material wastage and environmental impact.
We design sustainable infrastructure by adopting life cycle perspective principle underlined in our commitment to Environment Management System standards. Care is taken that the total life-cycle cost is optimized rather than the initial cost of the project. Design choices are made considering the operational needs and use, giving preference to locally available material as well as optimal design to reduce overall material consumption.
Our vast expertise allows to select appropriate construction methodology and equipment to reduce the overall construction time and thereby reduce the impact and disruption caused to the community. We adopt Lean construction practices to minimize wastage of materials and utilization of material using 3R approach (reduce-reuse-recycle). This gives an added benefit of reducing the stress in the project team members while giving them an avenue to innovate and improve processes. Another aspect we stress on is ensuring a healthy and safe environment for our workforce (including subcontractor’s workforce) through our Whole Wellness program. These processes have culminated into Afcons being recognized as a “GREAT PLACE TO WORK”.
We proactively engage with various bodies to monitor environmental aspects during execution. Utmost care is taken to minimize the impact of air, noise and water pollution on the local community. Procurement of material is strategized to reduce its carbon footprint. We reduce the environmental impact of our site facilities by adopting several best practices such as use of container offices, grid power for site facilities, use of solar power for worker accommodation, recycled water for construction purposes and appropriate strategies for disposal and reuse of construction waste. We also work with our strategic partners to encourage use of alternative materials such as flyash and crushed sand.
Overall Afcons has adopted a holistic approach towards creating sustainable infrastructure.
How is AFCONS guiding and supporting policy change for the adoption of sustainable practices?
Today more and more project stakeholders, and society in general, are demanding and expecting environmental sustainability to be integrated into infrastructure projects. Policy makers have already noticed this trend and several steps have been taken in this regard. Energy Conservation Building Code, MoEF Environmental Impact Assessment requirement and rating systems such as LEED, IGBC and GRIHA are steps in the right direction.
Promotion of awareness among stakeholders and the public is generally regarded as the first step to achieving sustainable construction. Awareness promotion can take many forms, including general promotion, education and training, research and development, and information and experience sharing. Afcons is part of several Indian Standard codal committees as well as industry bodies. We share our experiences and learning in these forums for the benefit of the construction community at large and to suggest appropriate policy changes. We proactively engage with our Clients to appraise them of new construction technologies and materials that can add value to the project.
Our commitment towards zero carbon footprint is reflected in nine underground Metro stations constructed by Afcons, in Chennai, receiving the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) Platinum award. This green initiative by Afcons has offered prospect of Metro stations in India speeding towards eco-friendly and pollution-free mass transit systems in future.
The Railways has awarded AFCONS with the Mokama bridge project. Discuss the status, scope and technology used in the project.
Mokama bridge project is one of the prestigious projects which Afcons is proud to be associated with. The Client for this project is East Central Railway with IRCON being the Authority Engineer. The project involves construction of 1.8 km long Steel truss bridge along with 1 composite girder ROR and 2 nos of open web RORs, 2 nos of bow string girder ROBs, 1 twin box structure RUB, 2 composite girder viaducts, 1 RCC box minor bridge and embankment works.
We have adopted several innovative methodologies to speed up the construction of this project. The main bridge steel truss erection will be done using a combination of GSS and push launching system. This will minimize disturbance to river ecology. Construction of the well foundation will be done using sheet pile cofferdams instead of caissons. This will speed up the project delivery and avoid requirement of dredging. A novel methodology of side-shifting of girders is being explored to reduce the number of blocks over railway crossings, which will minimize the disturbance to the local community.
Discuss how bureaucracy continues to remain a challenge in India and urgent steps needed to usher in real growth in project completion.
Fragmented nature of the industry, poor or one-sided contracting structures which lead to misaligned goals and misallocation of risks have been a stumbling block for many projects. A December 2018 flash report by the Infrastructure & Project Monitoring Division, Ministry of Statistics GoI has concluded that 60.39 percent of public infrastructure projects in India have time over-run, cost over-run or both. The report also mentions brief reasons for time overruns as delay in land acquisition, delay in forest clearance, delay in supply of equipment, fund constraints, geological surprises, problems in equipment erection, shortage of labour, court cases, contractual issues, ROU/ROW problems, law and order situation etc.
Support in resolving hindrances related to land acquisition and approvals by other Government agencies will go a long way in ensuring timely completion of projects. McKinsey’s Reinventing Construction report estimates 23-27 percent impact on productivity and 17-22 percent savings in cost due to better contracting and supply-chain practices, with regulation being the enabler. Hence, it is paramount that factors such as competency, ability to add value to the project, experience and performance history are given due weightage in the selection of the contractor. This will ensure that the right kind of contractors is selected for the project.
Government agencies can give impetus to sustainable construction by allowing contractors the freedom to adopt alternative materials where possible after appropriate trials. Value-added solutions for all stakeholders can be obtained by including the contractors on-board early during the project planning phase and considering their inputs for constructability as well.
Giridhar Rajagopalan, Executive Director (Technical), AFCONS Infra-structure Ltd., has rich experience of 40 years in Infrastructure, Real Estate, and Private Equity in leadership positions. He graduated from Sardar Patel College of Engineering, Mumbai in 1979
As Executive Director (Technical) of the company he heads various departments such as Design, Methods, Quality, Safety, ISO, Technical Training and Knowledge Management. In his role, he advises Business Verticals on cutting edge Construction Methods and Technology and has been entrusted to lead a task force comprising of experts to actively engage with all projects during their life cycle to achieve Operational Excellence. Under his stewardship, AFCONS became the first Indian Infra-structure company to win the prestigious Global, Asia Pacific and India MAKE Award (IOU category) for two consecutive years (2016 & 2017) and Knowledge Ready Organisation award (2018) .
As an additional responsibility, he is leading the project teams for the world’s highest railway bridge at the iconic Chenab Bridge Project, construction of India’s first underwater rail tunnel for Kolkata Metro, a double track BG Railway Bridge at Mokama, Bihar and two critical road projects in Dubai for Road Transport Authority, Dubai.
He is also a member of the Board of Institute of Lean Construction Excellence (ILCE) and has successfully lead Lean Construction implementation in several projects over the years.