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View from India: Technology for housing, highways and road networks

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared April 2019-March 2020 as the 'Construction-Technology' year.

Close on the heels of this announcement, a high-rise building has been in the news recently. Kolkata, once the seat of the British Raj, is now home to ‘The 42,’ a 268-metre-tall ultra-premium residential project.   

As the demand for rapid urbanisation is increasing, Modi has stressed the need for eco-friendly, disaster-resilient and energy-efficient construction.

To boost the housing sector, the Government of India (GoI) has implemented national programmes such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana; National Urban Livelihoods Mission; HRIDAY; AMRUT and Smart Cities. These programmes can be implemented only if there’s a skill-ready workforce to take them forward. Clearly, this means that the local talent needs to be nurtured. This explains why the government is working on systematic reforms to fine-tune the engineering and technology curriculum in colleges.

The thrust is on innovative technology and high-tech engineering in order to meet the growing requirement. Low-cost mass housing projects are being planned as per the government policy which envisions ‘House for all by 2020.’

From a technology standpoint, prefab technology is a good option for low-cost housing. Besides being earthquake resistant, it doesn’t require foundations. The houses, which take a few hours to build, can be built on-site. Alternatively, they can be built in factories or workshops and transported to the location. Of course, this can become a reality only when incentive schemes are rolled out to prefab makers to lower operational costs.

Besides dwelling homes, highways and road networks are other dimensions of the Construction-Technology vision.

As indicated in the 2019 Interim Budget, India is the world’s fastest highway developer with 27km of highways built each day. In December 2018, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) worked on 31.87km of national highway construction. This is an average record per day.

Moving on, one wishes that technological innovation will bring about a sea change in highway and road journeys. Highways, it is hoped, will package automated computerised traffic systems. These intelligent highways should leverage advanced communication systems to manage traffic in real time. Besides transport management, highways need to be lined with detection points to determine the speed of vehicles. Sensors will help provide weather alerts.

The setting up of electronic tolls will serve a dual purpose. Vehicles need not queue up at toll centres, so the air pollution from idling engines can be avoided. Simply put, highways need to be smart and green.

In 2018, the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) became the country’s first smart and green highway. The 135km six-lane highway that passes through the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is lit by solar power and has provision for rainwater harvesting. Around 2.5 lakh (250,000) trees line the periphery of the highway. Intelligent highway traffic management system (HTMS) and video incident detection system (VIDS) are other highlights.  

All this aligns with the 2015 National Green Highways Policy. The initiative is towards the fulfillment of India’s commitment of voluntary carbon emissions reduction of up to 35 per cent by 2030. This is as per the United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change 21 (CoP 21 Summit). Though national highways are the lifeline of road infrastructure, it’s important to keep them green. National Green Highway projects are being encouraged to synergise road development and environment protection.

It would be nice if there will be eco-friendly roads made with recycled materials. While we do require roads for connectivity, it’s also important to keep the ecology intact. As the usage of plastic has been banned at the national level, this is the time when plastic waste needs to be put to good use. Rather than have it contaminating our oceans, it’s practical to recycle plastic waste and use it with asphalt for road construction.

A move has been made in this direction. JUSCO (Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company Limited), a 100 per cent subsidiary company of Tata Steel has combined plastic waste with bitumen technology to make 12-15km of road in the steel city of Jamshedpur, located in the state of Jharkhand. Let’s hope there are more green roads in the country. Large-scale commercialisation of green roads will generate employment and open out newer engineering innovations in road construction.

We continue on the eco-friendly trail, with a departure from road construction. One upcoming trend is that of self-sustaining Industrial Parks whose energy management extends to rainwater harvesting and solar panels. Many of them are poised to be manufacturing hubs and hence attract foreign direct investments.

Logistics parks are beginning to spring up in various states led by government-aid, private-public partnerships and national consortiums. What is important is that these parks are positioned as sustainable and green units that improve the transportation and warehousing industry activities. These parks are expected to handle various manufacturing aspects like the final assembly and labelling, along with packaging, distribution and disposal. Electric and emission-free vehicles, solar and renewable sources of energy are among the norms that will be followed by these upcoming logistics parks.

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