"The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) can play a vital role in standardising construction equipment to improve quality and safety of products. It will be helpful in laying down proper specification of construction equipment in tender documents," says KK Taparia, Chairman for Mechanisation of Construction Committee, BAI. In an exclusive chat with Agith George Antony, Taparia throws light on the mechanisation of the construction industry, the issues faced by the sector and role played by BAI. Excerpts from the interview.How do you view the overall scenario of mechanisation of the construction industry which includes the infrastructure development, housing and real estate sectors? Under the provision of the Five Year Plan and government policy of PPP, BOT and DBFOT, massive investment from India as well as from other countries have been rushed to infrastructure and real estate projects in all the states of India. Due to this, the construction industry is facing acute labour shortage as we have majority of migrant labourers that move from one state to another in search of job. To overcome the problem of shortage of labourers and to complete the project in the stipulated timeframe, mechanisation of construction activity is the only solution. So, it is observed that in the past couple of years, mechanisation in construction industries is catching momentum.Coming to housing and real estate sectors, to what extent has mechanisation of construction activities happened? In the housing and realty sector, up to 55 per cent of construction activity has already been mechanised. Major activity related to excavation, concreting, lifting of material is already mechanised.Which are the construction activities that still lag behind, and what do you think the reasons for that? Construction activity related to excavation of trenchless boring, plastering, curing, bar bending, bar cutting, concrete placing and compaction, all lag behind. Lifting of material such as sand and bricks, clearing of construction material debris are all also behind hand. The reason is, this activity generally sub-let to labour contractors; this lacuna can be met by the purchase of machines by the builder, given to the contractor.Geographically speaking, what is the scenario of mechanisation in different parts of the country; say in Tier I, II, III and IV cities? In the case of metros and cosmopolitian towns, due to constraint of site and geographical locations, customers are forced to use a variety of machinery to execute the construction projects. But in case of Tier III and IV cities, it is observed that the mechanisation is related to mixing and lifting of concrete; placing and compaction has been done manually. Material lifting is partly done manually and partly by machine; bar-bending and cutting in majority of locations has been done manually, but now is slowly changing to machines due to speed and economy factors.What are the major challenges in getting construction activities mechanised in the housing and real estate sectors? In housing and real estate construction, majority of the jobs are sub-let to small and mid-sized contractors. They execute the work with the help of the labour force and a bare minimum of machinery, since purchase of machinery requires huge capital. If the developer/real estate owner gives machines to contractors, mechanisation can be increased and in turn, it will improve the speed and quality of work with economy and safety.What is the role played by the Builders Association of India (BAI) to mechanise construction activity? The BAI usually plays an indirect role. However, BAI has collaborated with various international trade fair and exhibitions organisers and through them, organised international exhibitions exhibiting the most advanced machinery in the construction industry. BAI takes international delegations of our members to various advanced countries with a view to understand the technology used there. BAI also publish a monthly journal called 'Indian Construction', which prints articles and pictures with details of various advanced construction technologies used in the developed countries. Our members depend on BAI a lot for acquiring more information on the technology used by international countries, and we provide the same through indirect ways.What is the role and potential for equipment consultants as they could study a project and advice the owner/executer in the selection of equipment? Having an equipment consultant is still in the conceptual stage but looking at today's construction activity scenario, the position of equipment consultant is a real requirement. Majority of the projects in India are running under PPP, BOT, DBFOT module and the huge amount of investment from the public are all involved in that. The completion of projects in a stipulated time-frame is really a difficult task. To execute projects in time, construction should be mechanised. Purchasing of construction equipment requires huge capital investment. So, there should be a specialist who can guide/support the construction company in choosing the right product as per the need of the project and its effective utilisation.What role can standardisation play in augmenting the mechanisation of construction activities? Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) can play a vital role in standardising the construction equipment to improve the quality and safety of products. It will help in laying down proper specification of construction equipment in tender documents.What is your take on the availability and affordability of small and medium-sized machines for various construction activities? Big manufacturing companies have been decentralising their production facilities by setting up plants in different parts of the country. Also, they are developing distribution channels all over India. This has resulted in affordability and availability of small and medium-sized construction machines. Also, the renting of construction equipment will be helpful in terms of availability and affordability.Training is a major issue when it comes to proper mechanisation. Do you think we could address these issues? Has BAI initiated any steps in this regard? We agree with you that, the training of operators who use heavy equipment is a major concern. BAI is instrumental in establishing the National Institute of Construction Management And Research (NICMAR), which offers a post-graduate degree/diploma in construction. Universal Construction Machinery & Equipment has initiated a full-fledged training centre in collaboration with the Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) for training operators and mechanics.Further, the Government of India is expected to spend more than $1 trillion for the development of physical infrastructure during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). India, with the present economical boom, could boldly emphasise that it possess the technological know-how, financial resources, and contractors for fulfilling the contractual obligation. However, getting skilled workers for executing the mega projects will be a concern, and will be difficult to resolve.BAI has also established the National Council for Construction Education and Training (NCCET) to train and certify construction workers. Many of our centres like Pune, Coimbatore, Cochin, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, are all deeply involved with training construction workers and heavy equipment operators. BAI is constantly in touch with various heavy equipment manufacturers for providing quality training to equipment operators. In the recent past, BAI organised an international exhibition with bC India 2011, where we explored the possibility of imparting training to equipment operators.Do you see the necessity of creating a pool of trained and skilled manpower, state-wise that can be available to any contractor in the country? Since the Government of India is expected to spend more than $1 trillion for the development of physical infrastructure during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), there could well be a construction boom in India. This may adversely affect the acquiring of skilled workers for executing mega projects. In this connection, BAI is instrumental in establishing NICMAR and NCCET.Many of our centres train construction workers and heavy equipment operators. BAI is also constantly in touch with various heavy equipment manufacturers for providing quality training to equipment operators.How do you focus on safety issues while imparting training? It is observed that majority of accidents occur due to ignorance and over-confidence at work. At Universal Construction Machinery & Equipment, we are implementing operator training. Also, we are thinking of making operator training mandatory for safety and best utilisation of construction equipment.