Contractor norms

Contractor norms

The other day I had the privilege of making an intimate tour of the little known Institute of Urban Works, located in a distant suburb of Bengaluru, thanks to my friendship with the uncle of the wife of an engineer in the BBMP.

“We like to keep a low profile, explained the Director, as he took me on a guided tour. “You see, our course is for practicing civil contractors and it wouldn’t do for some of the tactics that we explore to be made familiar to the public.”

Our first port of call was the class on Estimation. “Now, gentlemen,” quizzed the lecturer, “how would you estimate the cost of a project for tendering purposes ?” A student raised his hand and replied, “Cost of raw materials, labour and capital.”

“That’s where you would be wrong,” pointed out the lecturer. “The most important element in costing a civic project is grease.” “Isn’t that a lubricant?” asked a bewildered student. “The grease I am talking about enables smooth movement of your papers in the corridors of power in the corporation.

“Sir, isn’t that just a percentage of the actual cost ?” “Yes, but what percentage depends on many factors. Times like marriage season or school and college admission month can up the percentage. After all, the approving authorities in the government or corporation have their needs. If the corporator or minister in-charge is facing an election, then again the percentage can climb.”

In the next lecture room, a discourse on Quality was going on. The lecturer asked the class, “What is your perception of quality ?” A student got up and said, “Quality is about meeting specifications, meticulous execution, neat work and so on.”

The lecturer shook his head and remarked, “That is the textbook concept. If you make roads which are perfect, they will last so long that subsequent contracts for road works will be few and far between. In actual operations , we need to follow the American principle of planned obsolescence. In lectures and workshops to follow, you will get to know how to achieve this, such as laying roads with built-in pot holes or surfaces that will disintegrate with the first rains. We will also acquaint you with proper HR practices like deploying low-wage untrained labour from villages, so that imperfection is assured.”

A student got up and asked , “Sir, how do we get such quality past the inspectors and engineers of the corporation?” The instructor smiled and replied, “Grease, my dear man, grease. And how to apply that will be taught in another class.”

As I took leave of the Director after the tour, I acknowledged to him, “I see what you mean about the sensitivity of what you teach here.”