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    Why Big Firms Should not Shy Away from Housing for All

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    Housing for All

    Shelter is a basic human need, and yet India’s cities and metros, increasingly overcome with one of history’s greatest rural-urban migrations, are unable to provide shelter to a growing number of their residents. According to the 2011 Census, India’s urban population stood at 377 million; signaling a 4% increase in just 10 years. As a result, our cities have grappled with problems including rapid increase in real estate prices and a greater stress on resources and amenities like land water, sanitation and healthcare.

    A study by the government in 2011 found that there is a shortage of 18.8 million homes. In response, the central government has set for itself an ambitious target to provide ‘Housing for all’ by 2022. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), as the initiative is known, has expanded its wings to fulfill the housing needs of the mid-income group, besides the economically weaker sections (EWS) and low-income group (LIG).

    Under the scheme, 18 million urban and 30 million rural houses are to be built by the said year, out of which the Government has approved only 1.88 million urban houses — and roughly 103,000 have been built as of this April. As per the original three-year plan, another 3.3 million houses were to be built in 2017-18, but several factors are hindering PMAY from achieving its full potential.

    Many experts have observed that one of the big reasons for slow progress in construction of new houses under the PMAY scheme is that very few large and organized real estate players are participating in this program, primarily due to low profit margins that accrue in affordable housing. Further, as this is a Central government mission, there is a higher level of sensitivity to input costs and changes thereof that has led to project delays to some extent. Besides, 70% of contractors say that they are having a difficult time finding qualified workers or professionals to fill the needed positions. Real estate developers have taken some steps to try and combat this issue, for example increasing pay and benefits and investing in training but the lack of a broad based skilled workforce has negatively affected the scheme.

    Due to an apparent lack of interest initially from big firms, the government took pro-active measures to include the wider private sector in this nation building task. Earlier this year, the central government announced public-private partnership (PPP) to promote private investments in affordable housing. This new policy initiative seeks to assign risks among the government, developers and financial institutions, to those stakeholders who can manage them in the best possible manner, besides leveraging the under-utilized and un-utilized private and public lands. Under this option, private builders can design, build and transfer houses built on government land, to public authorities. The Prime Minister has also urged the central ministry for urban development to organize a workshop with various stakeholders, including Indian and global companies, to promote the use of technology for better and faster completion of the projects.

    For the construction industry, this opportunity is simply too big to ignore. Not only has the government encouraged a financially viable route of participation in the biggest housing programme in India yet, it has also given the construction industry a platform to showcase its technological capability that can help build a profitable enterprise even for this quasi-social initiative. Construction firms can leverage technology for rapid construction of economical and eco-friendly houses and put the nation on the path of rapid economic growth.

    Tech can assist in various ways and a great example is the use of prefab structures and materials. Given the new requirement of 26.5 million affordable housing units in India and the resultant project execution challenges, including the shortage of quality human resources, the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ construction can effectively be replaced by prefab structures and materials. Prefabrication technologies can be used to build homes quickly and cost-effectively, especially as traditional construction costs continue to rise.

    In prefab construction projects, various modules of a building’s structure are cast off-site (in factories) and then assembled on the site.The components are then brought to the construction site and then the structure is assembled on-site. Buildings using steel frames for a structure can have multiple stories without pillars, beams and concrete. Alternatively, the main structure and outer walls can be constructed using the conventional techniques and inside partitioning and interiors done with prefab materials. The multiple options allow for flexibility in the construction process and many a leading players in the construction industry are experiencing the advantages of pre-fab construction in India, though its adoption can be more widespread but is constrained by traditional thinking amongst developers and contractors.

    By opting for pre-fabricated building solutions, contractors can achieve savings both in the short term and over the life of the structure. Usually, pre-engineered or pre-fabricated buildings show better performance, as factory-produced structures are manufactured to stricter norms. Such buildings use cutting edge technology and reduce the number of manufacturing defects given the strong quality checks that are capable to be deployed in a factory environment.

    Even in the traditional construction process, tech can play a meaningful role in ensuring timely and quality project delivery, while ensuring a profitable business. For example, Formwork is one of the most time-consuming element of cast-in-place (CIP) concrete construction (read: traditional concrete construction), which makes good planning absolutely essential for that form of construction. With new software capabilities and enhanced visualisation, coordination and communication made possible by the constructible formwork models, contractors can speed up the formwork planning and save time, prevent mistakes and streamline the formwork operations on site.

    Technology is capable of playing a central role in making affordable housing projects risk-free and profitable, be it precast or CIP construction. The use of ‘constructible’ Business Information Modelling (BIM), which augments the three primary spatial dimensions (width, height and depth) with time as the fourth dimension (4D) and cost estimation as the fifth (5D), can allow greater degree of quality control over estimations needed for Precast construction. It is well known now how constructible 3D modelling is key to the success of BIM as it allows for closer monitoring and control of costs. The term ‘constructability’ here defines the ease and efficiency with which structures can be built; it is a project planning and management technique which ensures that a building is constructed as efficiently as possible, both in terms of time and money.

    The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been ingrained in markets like US and other mature economies where it has become a mandatory best practice for the construction industry. In India, multiple firms in the construction for e.g. Larsen & Toubro, Shapoorji Pallonji, and Kirby Building Systems India, amongst others, have successfully adopted the Constructible BIM processes. As the adoption of BIM becomes more mainstream, the broader construction industry will experience the benefits and reap the rewards too.

    Experts also predict that widespread adoption of Internet of Things (IOT) will transform construction by 2025 through automation, software, prefabrication, and 3D printing. Adoption of various construction technologies can help Indian contractors build new structures with minimized cost, risk and wastage, and allow them to actively participate in the PMAY and contribute to India’s progress and development. Given the various steps that the Indian government has taken to encourage participation of the construction industry, there’s a great opportunity for the industry to make ‘Housing for All’ a reality.

    Harsh Pareek, Regional Sales Director, Trimble, India & SAARC Region

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