Louis Berger

Kshitish V. Nadgauda, Senior VP & MD Asia - Louis Berger
Kshitish V. Nadgauda, Senior VP & MD Asia
We are ready and poised to continue to work on infrastructure projects that are in the pipeline across diverse sectors including transportation and urban infrastructure – planning and design. We have competent and experienced teams available to be deployed at a moment’s notice on the most complex projects; and we are eager to continue to develop world-class solutions for our infrastructure needs.

The focus should be on bringing ongoing projects back on track to meet the urgent needs of the nation’s infrastructure, which would also boost economic growth and generate mass employment.
In the short term, due to the pandemic-related lockdown, the focus should be on bringing ongoing projects quickly back on track. The government has already extended a helping hand to contractors and other stakeholders in the infrastructure sector in an attempt to offset to a large extent losses that the firms have incurred as a result of their inability beyond their control to progress with ongoing works.

All stakeholders would also have to work together to identify solutions for the labor shortage resulting from the movement of labor back to their homes across the country. In the medium and long term, the government would need to urgently infuse funds into the infrastructure sector to get much-needed projects off the ground. Apart from serving the urgent needs of the nation’s infrastructure, such steps would boost economic growth and generate mass employment.

Relief to contractors and other stakeholders would need to be expedited for the management of cash flow before a crippling situation is reached.
In the short term, contractors and other stakeholders would need much-needed relief in accordance with contractual Force Majeure provisions to overcome the loss of revenue while incurring costs during the lockdown period. Such relief would need to be expedited for the management of cash flow of the contractors and other stakeholders before a crippling situation is reached. It is important for ongoing projects to resume as quickly as possible, for which the vast majority of firms would need a helping hand, all in accordance with respective contracts. In addition, issues with the availability of labor at pre-lockdown levels would need to be urgently addressed.

New infrastructure projects could potentially be delayed to some extent depending on the availability of funds since health and social programs would also need undivided attention during and in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

work on infrastructure projects

The lockdown and 100% WFH drove us to identify ways in which we would be better structured and organized. We used technology solutions to the fullest, and devised ways and means to boost communication between teams through video conferencing tools.
As a consultant, the most lasting impact of the lockdown is likely to be from the experiences since 23 March 2020 of ‘Working from Home’ to the 100% extent for our head and design offices. Our experience in this regard has been largely positive. We used technology solutions to the fullest, and devised ways and means through which we actually boosted daily communication between teams through video conferencing tools. The lockdown and 100% WFH drove a need for us to identify ways in which we would be better structured and organized. WFH also cut out the largely unproductive, long and exhausting daily commuting in metro areas for a large segment of our staff. More productive hours were therefore available in a typical day. This, of course, depends on high professional ethics and integrity of individuals. Staff were also able to spend quality time at home with families and loved ones. In an overall sense, therefore, there are productivity gains on the work front as well as on the “happiness index”.

Post-lockdown, we intend to retain a WFH element perhaps to the extent of 30-40% for our head and design offices. We hope that clients would also require less travelling on the part of consultant staff, adopting a suitable mix of physical attendance at meetings and video conferencing. Technology solutions are poised for rapid advancements since ours is not the only company thinking along these lines. Finally, this approach on the part of consultants as well as clients would be beneficial for the environment. We have all seen how quickly the air in metro areas turned clean, with low pollution levels not experienced in recent memory.

The government should look at critical areas to speed up infrastructure construction and bring accountability, and strengthen project execution to stop cost overruns, delay in completion, and avoid arbitration. The simple steps outlined below will greatly reduce project disputes, bring greater accountability, and streamline project delivery to a large extent.
First and foremost, contractors and consultants must bid sensibly on projects. All too often the bidding process reveals relatively inexperienced firms resorting to price undercutting just to gain entry to the market. Tender criteria must be strengthened to prevent this. This inevitably leads to project delays due to inefficiencies and inadequate resource deployment, both in terms of numbers as well as quality, and cost overruns.

Next, streamlining of the payment stream to ensure timely payments in accordance with contractual provisions to contractors and consultants would greatly help firms in deploying required resources to the fullest for the completion of projects. Payment delays and the resultant cash-flow issues are an unnecessary and highly avoidable distraction that takes away from the focus being on the actual delivery of the project to the required timeline.

Third, payment terms in tender documents, especially for consultants, are almost always set up to ensure negative cash-flow for the consultant. There should be a radical departure from this approach. If a consultant’s cash flow is break-even or position, chances are very high that this would be reflected in smooth delivery.

Finally, as far as project completion delays are concerned, contractors must provide at the commencement of every project workable and detailed project schedules as per contractual requirements, and must adhere to the same. Contractors must inculcate the approach of working in a transparent manner in the best interest of the project and the nation. At the same time, consultants and clients must evaluate variations for additional or non-contractual work in a fair and unbiased manner in accordance with the contract.

work on infrastructure projects

New disruptive technologies using artificial intelligence and the IoT will be rapidly developed over the coming months.
We feel that new disruptive technologies using artificial intelligence and the IoT towards facilitating even more effective WFH and video-conference meetings will be rapidly developed over the coming months. In addition, we expect robotics to take the next quantum leap. The world just cannot afford to be caught off-guard again by any other reason for a lockdown. Any next lockdown should entail a much lesser negative impact on the economy. Such disruptive technologies will help companies continue to operate in any lockdown.

However, the social impact of such technologies needs to be carefully assessed especially in a highly-populated country like India where the bulk of the workforce is between the ages of 20 and 50. Newer technologies should be adopted in an inclusive manner.

We are working on several road and metro rail projects in Mumbai. Our objective is to ensure a higher quality of life for the residents of Mumbai and enhance their commuting experience.
We are presently working on the design of the upgrading of the 27-km stretch of the Western Express Highway in Mumbai from Mahim to Dahisar. The WEH is one of the busiest and most congested roadway corridors in Mumbai, serving the western suburbs. Our challenge is to develop solutions that would not only meet traffic needs but also provide efficient access to the various suburbs. In addition, the urban character and streetscape of the corridor needs to be restored to improve the quality of life for pedestrians and commuters alike.

Our work on this project is in conjunction with our work on the Versova Bandra Sea Link project, which is an extension of the existing Bandra Worli Sea Link. We have also conceptualized the extension of the VBSL towards Virar along the coastline. To the south of the BWSL, we are working on the Mumbai Coastal Road that will connect to the BWSL.

We are also working on several metro rail projects in Mumbai. We are driven by the objective of greatly enhancing and streamlining the commuting experience for the much harried Mumbaikar, while also ensuring a much higher quality of life for the residents of Mumbai.

NBM&CW July 2020

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