Housing for all: Construction tech — time to take an alternate route

A variation in building technologies is slowly gaining traction along with conventional methods, but a lot needs to be done to scale up their implementation which in turn can help the govt achieve its construction targets at a faster pace and cheaper costs

Written by ANURAG CHAUBEY , Sandeep Singh | New Delhi | Published:October 22, 2016 2:48 am
real estate, construction, housing for all, government housing, govt housing scheme, housing for all scheme, urban development, india construction, india news Experts say that while Indian developers are warming up to some of the alternative technologies, they will gain wider acceptance over a period of time and as more pre-cast plants come up in the country. (Illustration by Subrata Dhar)

As India aspires to build 20 million houses by 2022 under its flagship ‘Housing for All’ mission, among many factors that would be responsible for successful implementation of the scheme, one key factor would be the method of bringing up these structures. In a departure that is likely to be welcomed by all stakeholders involved — the builders and the government in particular — the use of alternative construction technologies would probably make valuable contribution to this mega project and all such other similar projects on various fronts.

While both government agencies and the private sector are expected to play an active role in developing these houses, the government wants the industry to adopt new technologies along with the conventional methods of construction.

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Earlier this month, while speaking at an event in New Delhi, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, M Venkaiah Naidu said that, “Speedy, safe and sustainable construction using prefabricated alternative technologies is the need of the hour to meet the targets under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and programmes of state governments. Several such technologies validated by official technical agencies are now available and need to be scaled up in use.” Naidu was speaking at the inauguration of ‘Hindustan Prefab Ltd’s Housing Technology Park’ in Jangpura, New Delhi.

Even as the minister urged industry to adopt newer technologies, experts within the real estate and construction industry say that while Indian developers are warming up to some of the alternative technologies, they will gain wider acceptance over a period of time and as more pre-cast plants come up in the country.

PSN Rao, chairman, Delhi Urban Art Commission said that there are a large number of technologies currently available and if adopted they can bring down both the costs as well as the construction time of any mass housing project.

There are some who point that with increased focus on timely delivery within the industry, more and more developers are looking at these technologies to complete their projects faster.

Pre-fabricated technology: How it works

The basic difference between the conventional construction methods and the use of pre-fabricated technology is that the earlier involves the task of gathering the raw materials and labour as it involves a lot of manual work, whereas in case of the latter, the structures of building are constructed inside a factory, transported to the site of construction and assembled there.

Illustrating an example, Rao said that normally while constructing a staircase it is done in several stages — casting the slab till mid-way, building the landing area and then casting the slab from middle of the floor to the first floor. By contrast, in case of a pre-fabricated structure, the entire staircase is made in the factory and shipped to the site in several pieces. At the site, it just needs to be assembled for the staircase to be ready.

“Even in case of a balcony, it is a ready-made cast, including the slope, the drain and everything. So, for a multi-storied building, the time taken is around one tenth of the time taken while constructing in a conventional way. So, the time saving is enormous,” said Rao.

While several developers are already using it, experts say that it will gain wider acceptance over a period of time as they will become more cost-effective.

“A lot of developers are adopting this technology for their projects as then it becomes mechanical and the construction is faster. While the capital expenditure is initially higher since a plant has to be set up for the same, it becomes cost effective in the longer run. Also, as more players come and adopt the pre-cast technology and set up their plant, even the initial cost will come down over the time,” said, Deben Moza, joint CEO and ED- PMS at Knight Frank Property Services.

Govt needs to do more

That the government has started to recognise the use of such technologies in mass housing projects is a welcome sign, but a lot needs to be done. These technologies need to be absorbed by the housing construction agencies of the government. They need to take it up on a large scale, said Rao.

“The government has not really done much. That is why it is important for the government to take it on large scale. While the DDA had done a project in Dwarka, it was some time back and was small in size,” said Rao.

While Moza said that private developers are also using the aluminium shuttering or Mivan shuttering which uses prototypes and provides a perfect finishing, Rao said that it is being used in mass housing projects in a very small way.

Some government agencies seem to have moved ahead on the use of technology. For example — Andhra Pradesh State Housing Corporation Limited is using some and Andhra Pradesh Rajiv Swagruha Corporation Limited in Hyderabad has used Mivan shuttering in their projects.

Some private players have adopted pre-fabricated technology for their entire project. While Bharat City project in Ghaziabad has completely pre-fabricated buildings and they have a factory to make these panels, Jindal City in Sonipat also has a huge pre-fab factory and they have constructed all their hostels using this pre-fab.

Benefits and concerns

The biggest benefit include savings on both cost and time. Experts point that using various materials and techniques can help reduce the cost of construction manifold. “It is cost effective because firstly time is money. So what you can do in one year you can do in one month. Secondly, the quality control is much better as everything is produced in factories and thereby it is standardised. Everything is produced in a factory including the panels, curing is done by steam and not by conventional way where an individual throws water on the walls and there is also less wastage, better quality and consistency in terms of strength,” added Rao.

While the use of pre-fabricated technology is more suited for mass housing projects as it becomes economical, there is concern as far as the mindset is concerned many remain skeptical about the new technology as to whether it will work or not. Some are even concerned about the initial capital expenditure in setting up the plant.

However, experts state that some of these technologies suit large projects and since affordable housing projects are large projects, developers can go for it. “For constructing a small house on a plot of land you can’t have this large panel construction, but if you are doing a large project on 200-300 acre of land then the cost of plant and machinery will get absorbed,” said Rao.