Cut to innovation

Delhi has created what seems like miracle in the annals of PWD in India: a flyover which costs far less than the estimate, and completed much earlier than the deadline. This is how it was achieved

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Puja Bhattacharjee | December 12, 2015




Four out of every 10 central government infrastructure projects are either running behind schedule or have overshot original cost estimates. This is reported in the annual report of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MOSPI) in 2015. The report is based on a survey of 738 projects costing more than '100 crore, out of which 315 had overshot their deadline and cost estimates.

The scene in the capital is no different. The Signature bridge – a proposed signal-free link between east and west Delhi over the Yamuna – is delayed by three years and its cost has escalated from '887 crore to '1,131 crore.

Against this background, the Delhi government has achieved a near miracle. In November it opened a flyover in the northwest of the capital which cost '100 crore less than the estimate and was completed well in time.
 
How did it happen?
“Spending more money does not necessarily mean better delivery. Our aim is to improve efficiency and quality,” says Satyendra Jain, Delhi’s PWD minister, nonchalantly.

Though the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is not making much noise to claim credit for this, it is a fact that 70 percent of work on this bridge, between Azadpur and Prembari, was completed after it began its term in February.

The secret of saving the exchequer’s money and timely completion in this case was a smart design change, prompt action to remove hurdles and a sense of urgency pumped in by a new political culture.  Jain explains, “Government services are for people, and provided from the taxes collected from them. In our political system, politicians behave as if they are doing people a favour when delivering what is expected of them.”

Besides expeditious work, Jain says an innovative design approach also helped save money. “The bridge has been made cost effective by designing it on a single pillar,” he says.

The segments on the pillars were pre-cast in yards and then transported and installed. “Casting in-situ [at the project site] increases cost significantly,” adds Jain. Similarly, the entire design was later reviewed by Jain and unnecessary structures were removed. “A foot-over bridge conceptualised in the original design was later done away with as it would not have benefitted many people. “Here also we made some savings,” adds Jain.

“The quantity of materials used in the construction was less than what was tendered. 50,000 cubic metres of concrete was estimated to be required as per the drawings. But finally only 35,000 cubic metres of concrete was used,” says an engineer who worked on with the project.
Pre-planning aided in speedy progress. Before the project was to begin, the service road in the area was developed and used to divert the traffic. The chaos in the already congested area had been compounded by the construction of metro rail, but the pavements and footpaths were fixed in advance to facilitate pedestrian traffic. The traffic police and PWD helped expedite the construction by diverting traffic and deploying personnel to man busy areas.

Yet, one delaying factor did turn up: a 60,000 KV overhead electricity wire obstructed the spot where mobile cranes were to be parked. But PWD swiftly took up the matter with the electricity board and the wire was placed underground.

The engineer says that to complete any project on time, PWD should release its drawings in time to the contractor, take immediate decisions to remove hindrances while the management and planning has to be seamless. “The contractor will never want to delay projects as they incur losses. He has to bear wage and equipment costs for the period of delay. He might be able to recover the amount later, during a negotiation with the department, but that is not guaranteed,” he says.

However, a contractor involved in the project says that the construction of Azadpur-Prembari link at less than estimated cost may be out of sheer luck. “It’s likely that the project did not face any major hurdles,” he adds.

The culture of meeting deadlines and saving public money, he says, is yet to percolate down and become a routine practice. Giving an instance, he says, the PWD had allotted the work ton the Vikaspuri-Meera Bagh flyover to the same contractor who had saved the exchequer’s money in the earlier project.

However, the project is already running late as it is faced with major hurdle including the objection from NGT on cutting trees for widening of the road.

The reason PWD projects in the city are mired in delays and cost overruns is that the agency first awards the contract and then gets down to removing hindrances like water lines, electricity lines and environmental clearances. This results in running behind schedule but is also bleeding the exchequer. Luckily, the Azadpur flyover met with fewer obstacles which were speedily resolved through inter-departmental cooperation.

“An effective system first removes obstacles, get necessary permissions and then award the contract. This not only expedites the construction work but also benefits commuters,” the engineer adds.

For the people
The flyover on the Mahatma Gandhi Marg, that is, the outer ring road, has dramatically changed the traffic flow between the two places – Azadpur, the biggest wholesale vegetable market of Delhi which attracts heavy traffic of trucks from the neighbouring states, and Prembari, a residential-cum-commercial locality.

The flyover is between the residential area of Shalimar Bagh and the Wazirpur industrial area. The vehicular traffic from Punjabi Bagh, Netaji Subhas Place and beyond now has direct access to the outer ring road.

Similarly, the traffic from Azadpur no longer has to jostle through three traffic signals and a jam-packed road to go to Pitampura and beyond.
Deepak Sharma, 33, is service adviser in Rana Motors in the Wazirpur industrial belt.

He commutes daily from his home in Jahangirpuri to Wazirpur. He used to leave home at 6.15 am to reach workplace by 7. Now his commute takes only 15 minutes. Going back home in the evening was even more tedious. “Now I save 75 minutes on commute. I use that time at home with my family,” he says.

For residents of Shalimar Bagh, even stepping out of their homes was a task as the road in front used to have heavy traffic. “Collision of cars and clashes between commuters were a daily affair. Travelling locally was so exhausting. Cycle rickshaws and autos charged three times the usual fare,” says a Mahendra Singht, who is now relieved.

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