Indian Roads Congress (IRC)
S.K. Nirmal, Secretary General, Indian Roads Congress (IRC), in an inclusive interview with NBM&CW, discusses IRC’s commitment to promoting environmental-friendly technologies and materials in road construction, supported by the Roads and Highway Ministry, through policies that mandate the use of standards and for monitoring their performance, and also recommends incentives and disincentives for mandatory use of green technologies.

As Secretary General of the IRC and in view of your vast experience in the field of engineering, please share your insights on India’s current road infra development and the role IRC is playing in building India’s road network?

India has a very ambitious road development programme and the required budgetary support from the government. The Roads & Highway Ministry has been allocated Rs. 2.70 lakh crores as part of the Budgetary Estimates in FY 2023-24. A total of 27 Expressways and Access-Controlled Corridors are being developed with a length of about 10,000 km and at a total capital cost of about Rs. 4,08,000 cr.

IRC has played an important role in providing guidelines, standards, and manuals as per the best international standards. Presently, all road development works implemented by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and its implementing agencies are being executed as per IRC manuals for 2, 4, and 6-lanings and expressways. These manuals are updated as per the latest international practices and policy guidelines. The new expressway manual was published by IRC in July 2023.

India has achieved many world records in road construction in recent years. How do you perceive the role of IRC in promoting new technologies, methodologies, and mechanization to attain these remarkable milestones in building high-quality and sustainable projects?

IRC has made valuable contributions by preparing as many as 275 Standards, Specifications, Codes of Practices, and Manuals on different aspects of engineering of road, bridges, tunnels, and traffic management. IRC is also promoting use of new and innovative materials and technologies through an Accreditation Committee. This Committee has so far approved 234 new and innovative products, technologies, and machineries as trials on road projects. IRC manuals allow use of all such materials and technologies through provisions in the contract documents.

The recent incidents of bridge collapses, road cave-ins, and premature project failures have raised concerns about project execution, quality, construction, safety, and time and financial losses. How can such incidents be prevented from recurring?

Most of such incidences of bridge collapses and premature project failures have been found to be implementation issues and not related to IRC’s codal provisions. There are also issues of poor-quality construction. There is a need to have detailed method statements explaining the construction sequences and the do’s and dont’s for all construction activities.

IRC Standards, Codes, and Guidelines have helped achieve uniformity in design and construction of roads and bridges, and are also being followed in our neighbouring countries and in African countries that have a similar climate and traffic pattern.

Each year, the roads in our country witness a staggering five lakh accidents, causing around 150,000 fatalities and 300,000 serious injuries. How does IRC address safety concerns and improve overall road traffic and safety?

IRC has published about 15 codes, guidelines, and standards pertaining to road safety through a dedicated technical committee. IRC is also involved in capacity development for road safety experts in the country through a standard certification course for training road safety experts.

Indian Roads Congress (IRC)Picture courtesy: GAEPL

In the developed and in many developing countries, newly constructed or overlaid roads typically last 3-5 years, but in India, every monsoon season leads to the formation of potholes and washed-out roads. What proactive measures are being undertaken by IRC in collaboration with MoRTH, NHAI, and other road development bodies to ensure the durability and quality of roads and what punitive measures can be taken against contractors for subpar work?

Newly constructed highways in India also last for more than three years, if constructed as per IRC guidelines. However, there may be some instances where premature failure or potholes have developed, which are mainly due to poor quality construction. There are clear guidelines and circulars for punitive actions on contractors and supervision consultants for substandard work.

What is IRC’s perspective on the performance, quality, and sustainability of roads constructed using waste materials like fly ash, steel slag, plastic, and rubber and taking a circular economy approach in road construction projects?

India is perhaps the first country to allow use of waste plastic in road construction based on IRC guidelines. More than 10,000 km of low volume roads have been constructed using waste plastic, crumb rubber, and fly ash. IRC has also prepared guidelines for allowing use of copper, zinc, and steel slag in construction of low volume roads. This is exactly as per the government policy of Waste to Wealth for promoting a circular economy.

Precast construction technology is gaining traction in sectors such as real estate, metro rails, flyovers, tunnel lining, etc., due to its advantages of speedy construction, cost-effectiveness, durability, and high quality. Has IRC considered precast construction’s suitability for road construction, particularly in border and hilly areas?

IRC has prepared a number of codes to promote use of precast construction technology due to its inherent advantages of speedy construction, cost effectiveness and high-quality workmanship. IRC is also preparing standard designs of various spans for bridges, which will give a boost to precast construction of such bridges, especially in remote areas.

Indian Roads Congress (IRC)Picture courtesy: Ashoka Buildcon

Precast technology will be very useful in inaccessible area like hilly and border area where transportation of material is a big challenge and quality construction is also difficult to monitor. Precast construction will provide good quality and speedy construction.

Presently, all road development works implemented by MoRTH are being executed as per IRC manuals which are updated as per the latest and best international practices and policy guidelines.

What is your view on decarbonization of road projects? What key sustainable design and construction features have been incorporated into IRC’s policies and guidelines towards this?

IRC has a dedicated Technical Committee for environment friendly construction and saving of carbon footprint. More than 15 codes and guidelines have been published to promote such green and sustainable technology. In the recent past, the IRC has been making efforts to align itself to global initiatives of environmental strategy for promotion of cleaner and energy efficient construction techniques, resource efficiency measures, use of recycled pavements, reuse of waste materials, etc. IRC has framed/revised innovative codes and guidelines, which are also the first in the world (for example, use of shredded waste plastic (IRC: SP:98) in pavement construction).

To keep pace with emerging international challenges and to meet its commitment to international conventions, IRC has issued IRC SP: 122 Guidelines on Reduction of Carbon Footprint in Road Construction Projects for attending climate change aspects in road construction. In addition, IRC SP :101 “Guidelines for Warm Mix asphalt, IRC SP:103 “Guidelines on Tree Plantation”, IRC SP:132 “Guidelines on use of Industrial Waste, and IRC SP:133 “Guidelines on Reducing Carbon Footprints of Road Projects” are other important documents.

India is perhaps the first country to allow use of waste plastic in road construction based on IRC guidelines, which also recommend use of copper, zinc, and steel slag in construction of low volume roads.

The Roads and Transport Ministry consistently encourages stakeholders to reduce construction costs and greenhouse gas emissions by embracing new technologies and alternative fuels. What innovative techniques are being promoted by IRC to facilitate faster and smoother construction?

The concept of design and construction of highways is rapidly evolving due to advancements in new materials, design process, construction procedures, high-capacity materials, and new management methods. These advancements have led to accelerated construction techniques which bring significant reduction in onsite construction time and in lifecycle cost.

IRC has taken various steps to encourage use of new and innovative materials and technologies. Many new technologies are now being widely used after their mainstreaming through IRC codes. To name a few:
  • use of Cement treated base and Cement treated sub-base after publishing in IRC-37
  • use of Waste Plastic IRC-SP-98
  • use of RAP IRC-120
  • use of Stabilizers IRC: SP:89
  • use of Fly Ash
  • use of Slags, etc.
India is a pioneer in utilizing waste plastic and other industrial waste in road construction. Today, some of the waste materials like fly ash and waste plastic are not easily available due to their extensive utilization in road construction.

Since high-quality and technologically advanced machinery can significantly enhance road construction quality, lifespan, and timely completion, how can IRC and MoRTH encourage contractors to invest in such machinery, despite their initial high cost concerns?

IRC has recently finalised a pocketbook on construction machinery which contains all types of construction machinery and their use. MoRTH’s specifications and contracts make mandatory the use of high quality and technologically advanced machinery for high value projects. Moreover, EPC contracts have provisions for a bonus clause for completion of projects before schedule, which can be achieved by employing advanced machineries.

How do you assess road, bridge, and tunnel infrastructure development in India, particularly in high altitude and treacherous terrains, which pose technical, physical, and mental challenges? Please elaborate on the specifications and standards that must be adhered to in such demanding regions.

In recent years, large scale road development works have been undertaken in the North-Eastern and Northern states mainly comprising of hilly and mountainous terrains. IRC has also recently updated its hill road manual IRC SP:48 which addresses development of roads, bridges and tunnels in high altitudes and challenging environments. In addition, IRC:52 gives guidelines for alignment surveys and geometric designs of hill roads using the latest equipment and technology.

IRC is promoting use of precast construction technology due to its speedy construction, cost effectiveness and high-quality workmanship and is also preparing standard designs of various spans for bridges, which will give a boost to precast construction, especially in remote areas.

IRC has established collaborations with numerous national and international organizations; please name some important ones and their objectives.

IRC has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for technical collaboration and exchange of information with the following international organizations:
  • World Road Association (PIARC)
  • American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)
  • Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

How has the role of IRC grown and expanded since its formation in 1934?

IRC has so far published 131 Standards and Codes of Practice, 134 Special Publications, 25 State-of-the-Art Reports, 78 Highway Research Journals, and 41 Highway Research Records. It has also brought out 31 important publications on behalf of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, two publications on behalf of the Ministry of Rural Development and four on behalf of the Planning Commission.

Various Standards, Codes of Practice, and Guidelines published by the Indian Roads Congress have helped in achieving uniformity in design and construction practices of roads and bridges in the country. Moreover, IRC codes are also being followed in our neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and in many African countries that have a similar climate and traffic pattern.

Indian Roads Congress (IRC)

The Indian Roads Congress holds seminars, workshops, and conferences regularly, during which several Technical Papers on important issues concerning roads, bridges and transportation are discussed. IRC also holds Annual and Mid-Term Sessions that include Council Meetings, presentations on technical and research topics, expert talks, panel discussions, HRB meetings, Technical Committee meetings, Secretaries/ Engineers-in-Chief/Chief Engineers’ meetings, and Business Meetings.

The discussions and feedback received from professionals at these meetings provide valuable input for planning of IRC activities and dissemination of knowledge. In the last couple of years, there has been a huge increase in the participation of all the stakeholders in IRC events.

The Indian Roads Congress (IRC), the apex body of highway engineers in the country, was set up in December 1934 on the recommendations of the Indian Road Development Committee (best known as Jayakar Committee), which was set up by the Government for the development of roads and to provide a platform for exchange of expertise and research on the latest road construction techniques. The focus has now extended to people and services for inclusive growth and on road safety. IRC is also taking initiatives to introduce cleaner, less polluting construction methods, use of recycled waste, and minimize use of natural resources – all of which are reflected in its codes, guidelines, and standards. IRC comprises of members from various fields of engineering including the Border Roads Organisation, Road Research and Engineering Colleges, and Private Enterprises.

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