What are the challenges confronting the infrastructure civil construction sector?
The challenges confronting the infrastructure civil construction sector are mainly related to the risk sharing mechanism between the private players and the Government, especially for projects where private investment is envisaged like BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer), BOOT (Build Own, Operate and Transfer), and HAM (Hybrid Annuity Model). This is still work in progress, although the Central Government has realised the need for a more equitable risk-sharing mechanism. The challenges for EPC type of projects are lesser because the entire commercial risk is largely taken by the Central Government.
How will Gati Shakti provide the much-needed boost to the infrastructure sector?
The Central Government has, in the latest budget before Lok Sabha polls, demonstrated its continued commitment to developing the infrastructure of the country under it’s National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). Roads have received an outlay of Rs 2.7 lakh cr and Railways an outlay of Rs 2.4 lakh cr.
Gati Shakti, which literally means “the power of speed” is an initiative that envisages a “multi-modal” approach to develop the infrastructure so that transportation of goods becomes more efficient and has a multiplier effect on all the sectors of the economy. It is an overarching programme that even the states have been quick to adopt for their planning, due to its many benefits. We see both the NIP and the Gati Shakti growing the use of geo-synthetics in projects.
How well placed is India for geosynthetics and engineering solutions for resilient infrastructure development in comparison to developed markets?
I think that the geo-synthetics industry in India is very well placed to add value to the Central Government’s emphasis on climate and disaster resilient infrastructure development. This is because most of the major geo-synthetic solution providers in India are “walking the talk” by providing services that go beyond the traditional “manufacture and supply” model of many countries.
This is leading to a lot of expertise gained not only in manufacturing and supply but also in value-added services like installation. This expertise is valued in overseas markets, which are now looking at Indian geo-synthetic manufacturing companies and products in a favourable light. Indian products are now well accepted for their quality in major economies like USA and Europe, which is giving a fillip to opportunities in the geo-synthetic export markets.
Today, the market size of civil and geo-technical engineering solutions in India is around Rs 2500 cr (at a solution level) and around 1500 cr (at a product level).
Do you think there should be a policy to mandate use of sustainable materials such as geosynthetics, geogrids, and geo-composite for giving structural resilience to critical infra projects in view of the damages caused to them due to climate change?
Climate change is a reality today and poses numerous risks for a developing country like India. Whether we talk about the rise of sea levels that jeopardizes a very fragile and large coastline of 8000 kms or cloudbursts that are threatening to wipe out a lot of social infrastructure in hilly areas, it is something that needs to be factored at the planning stage of projects itself.
It is my understanding that geo-synthetics helps mitigate some of these factors and adds value by providing solutions that leave less of a carbon footprint than traditional solutions. They can provide more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to mitigate natural disasters in roads and railways. They also provide reliability of the product, ease of installation, and economy of cost in most of the applications.
It would certainly be a step in the right direction if a policy framework is created that analyses this aspect (and if the use of geo-synthetics is proven to be a more sustainable solution), then mandates the use of geo-synthetic solutions over traditional solutions.
However, such an approach would need to have a lot of groundwork done on different applications and the carbon footprint of geo-synthetics for each application versus the carbon footprint of traditional solutions. A start point would be studies taken up by reputed CoEs (Centres of Excellence ) on various commonly used applications of geo-synthetics.
How can sustainable construction practices reduce carbon emission and cost, and increase the lifespan of structures?
Sustainable construction practices involve, firstly, an awareness of the need to reduce carbon footprint. Traditional solutions very often leave a large carbon footprint. For example, a road project uses a large quantum of aggregates which need to be quarried, crushed and transported. Each stage involves a certain carbon footprint, with the quarrying being the highest. Moreover, there is a finite limit on the amount of aggregates that can be manufactured as this is not a regenerating product.
In comparison, geo-synthetics are manufactured from a residue of the oil industry, and the carbon footprint is much lower if one considers that the product is a residual product. Moreover, it is also possible to recycle and reuse waste polymers, which again reduces waste. All these factors clearly point to the use of geo-synthetic solutions over traditional solutions.
Unfortunately, I have not seen too much of a focus on this aspect by designers and clients in the Indian construction industry. Carbon footprint reduction and eco-friendliness of the solution are more of a concern in developed markets like Western Europe and USA.
Which sectors is Garware Technical Fibers catering to?
Garware Technical Fibres Ltd (GTFL) is active mainly in the infrastructure and environment sectors. In the Infrastructure sector, GTFL is providing solutions for landslide and geo-hazard mitigation for Roads and Railways. In the environment sector, it is providing solutions for industrial landfills and coastal protection.
Our solutions are generally found to be quite impactful as they are innovative in nature and replace traditional technologies, thereby adding a lot of value proposition to projects. One of the challenging projects that I would like to emphasize from this perspective is the Pentha coastal protection project that was executed by GTFL under a World Bank scheme of ICZMP (Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project). This project was executed under very difficult conditions, and was later evaluated by the World Bank favourably for both the technical and social infrastructure that this project gave rise to, along with the general economy of the village that it sought to protect.
What opportunities do you see emerging to expand your order book in FY 23-24?
Garware Technical Fibres expects to finish FY 23 with an order book of around 40% of the sales turnover budgeted for FY24. This, as per my understanding, is a good position to be in, because GTFL is very selective about its projects, and therefore, this is a “ qualified order book” of projects with good operational and cash flow visibility.
GTFL has plans to become a major player in sectors that it is active in over the next 4-5 years. We plan to provide with solutions that are higher in terms of value proposition than that provided by the market. In the export markets, the company is a small though a niche player, and plans to expand ion the back of a higher differentiation of its products. Towards this end, GTFL will continue to invest heavily in R&D and in its manufacturing capacity.