Engineers build, politicians draw the curtain


Frequent mishaps in the construction of Delhi Metro has raised several questions about safety standards in practice while building mega infrastructure projects across the country. Despite calls for stricter safety norms, doubts have often cropped up about whether the authorities concerned are really serious about them in the midst of a race against time to complete the projects.
Amidst the questions raised about safety, Ajith Athrady from Deccan Herald spoke to O P Goel, former director general of Central Public Works Department and advisor to the Institution of Engineers (India), on safety standards and quality issues. Having served as advisor and member of various government bodies and committees on the issue of safety, he shared his views:

What are the safety standards to be adopted to avoid frequent mishaps in huge projects like Metro?

As safety is a basic issue in construction, onus rests on both the contractors and building owners to follow stricter norms. Though accidents are unexpected in any project, by adopting strict safety standards they can be curtailed.

Accidents can be reduced by creating more awareness about safety rules to be followed, particularly at the workers’ level, conducting mock drills, giving proper
training to workers etc. Companies should honour employees who follow safety guidelines.

What are the constraints in executing major projects and how to address them? 

Big projects involve heavy machinery and large number of labourers. Often big companies engage a number of sub-contractors. Terms of these contracts/agreements relating to safety standards are not enforced strictly in respect of sub-contractors which may lead to mishaps. While awarding the contract, one should check whether the contractor is overburdened with other projects works.

What are the major hurdles in the country’s effort to build big infrastructure like the Metro.

Shortage of big contractors is a major issue. Due to the booming infrastructure sector, most of the time we have to depend on small contractors, who are
ill-equipped. Though some of the big companies like L&T, HCC have their own safety standards and training institutions, small companies do not follow these standards. There is an urgent need to enforce safety clauses among small contractors as well. 

How do Indian Infrastructure companies compare with international companies in adopting safety standards?

In many developed countries there is zero tolerance to safety and quality control violations. Even if there is an iota of doubt, the contractor is asked to demolish the structure and rebuild it. Though some Indian companies do practice strict quality control, very often small mistakes are ignored.

Is safety being compromised while rushing to meet deadlines, a criticism Delhi Metro is facing?

For this, we have to blame only politicians and bureaucrats and not engineers.
Engineers handle only the construction works, while politicians and bureaucrats decide the deadlines. Often, authorities concerned fail to take decisions leading to
undue delay in implementation of projects. Though every project must have a
schedule, it should not be impractical.

How does your organisation promote safety without compromising on

The Institution of Engineers has been holding several programmes on safety and standard issues. We have a separate wing for safety and quality control, which works with various companies and institutions. We also honour companies and
engineers adopting best safety measures.

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