Interview with Prabhakar Singh

“CPWD has shifted towards new technology and delivery standards”

In an interview with Indian Infrastructure, Prabhakar Singh, Director General, Central Public Works Department (CPWD), shares his view on the accomplishments of the CPWD, various initiatives and measures taken to improve transparency in operations and welfare of workers, new technological improvements, and key challenges facing construction contractors, and shares his vision for the growth of the CPWD over the next five years…

What have been the key accomplishments of the CPWD in the past few years?

The CPWD carries out operations both domestically as well as internationally.

Among the many global projects being developed are a psychiatric hospital in South Sudan, a police academy in Myanmar and hospitals in Nepal. Domestically, the largest net-zero energy consumption building (fully solar energy compliant) – Paryavaran Bhawan – was developed in Delhi. Apart from this, the Dr Ambedkar Memorial was constructed in a span of only two years using advanced technologies. The CPWD has also managed to complete the Western Court building before time, saving around Rs 200 million in costs. Further, several buildings for the banking sector including the gold-rated building of the Punjab National Bank in Delhi was developed.

Administrative changes have also been made to make the CPWD a work-friendly organisation. For this, a 560-page manual has been rewritten besides delayering of the organisation (reducing the levels of hierarchy from seven to four) and delegation of powers to clearly define authority and responsibility.

Another key accomplishment is the humongous increase in work orders from Rs 0.2 trillion to Rs 1.5 trillion, as the CPWD’s performance in terms of time and costs is 30-40 per cent more efficient than any other agency’s. To further enhance capabilities, the CPWD is trying to engage and invest more in research and development.

What has been the order inflow of the CPWD in 2018-19?

Currently, the order inflow is more than Rs 1.5 trillion and is expected to touch Rs 3 trillion in the near future.

How has the CPWD evolved over time?

Since Independence, the CPWD has been involved with the development of the capital city and national infrastructure. It has taken a quantum jump recently, leading the developmental work of the country and providing guidance by playing the role of a principal technical adviser.

What are the new initiatives and measures that have been taken to improve transparency in operations and speed up the decision-making process?

Several measures such as elimination of corruption at each level of the organisation and digitalisation of processes, the first such feat by a civil organisation, have been taken. Within a year’s time, the entire organisation is expected to become totally paperless and digital with the introduction of enterprise resource planning software. Initiatives are also being taken to enhance clarity in terms of decision making for project managers, with responsibility and authority delegated to them.

Further, steps are being taken to eliminate chances of any delay in operations. In case decisions get delayed, they get directly transferred to the next higher authority. The CPWD is also moving forward with the adoption of new technology and greater innovation. The time taken for construction of houses has been improved to two houses per day. Further, with innovative technologies, in 2018, the iconic Atal Samadhi was developed in about 42 days. Apart from this, another project for connectivity of the flyover/ underpass between the Northern Mahipalpur bypass road and airport road was completed in a short period of about 13 months (without impacting traffic movement even for a single day), thus reducing the cost of the project by up to Rs 260 million.

What are the steps being taken to promote new and environment-friendly materials and technologies?

There are mountains of construction and demolition (C&D) waste lying in and around Delhi. Taking this into consideration, an experiment was performed on the Supreme Court’s project, wherein about 2 million blocks made out of C&D waste were used, saving about Rs 600 million in the project cost. Apart from this, so far around 1,100 rainwater harvesting (RWH) systems have been installed in the country. Also, RWH systems have been made mandatory for all buildings being developed by the CPWD. LEDs and solar rooftop power plants (on 550 buildings) have also been installed in CPWD buildings and are currently being installed in government buildings as well. With the scale of deployment of solar rooftop plants, the CPWD has managed to produce 8 MW of energy. Recently, an energy-plus campus was inaugurated in Dandi, Gujarat, where energy production is greater than consumption and, therefore, the excess energy is supplied to nearby villages.

What are the steps that have been taken to promote the welfare of workers who are executing the projects?

The CPWD has signed an MoU with the CPWD’s Officers’ Wives Association that provides crèche facilities at various construction sites all over the country. It also organises health camps for workers on construction sites. Further, steps are being taken to enhance the skill of the workers by providing skill training to at least 30 per cent of the unskilled workers engaged in projects. Training certificates are also being provided to enhance the potential for future employment. Online payments are made to contractors to ease project execution.

Does the CPWD play a role in the implementation of centrally sponsored programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission, Housing for All, etc.?

As programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission and Housing for All, among others, are designed to be executed by state governments, the major part of the funding comes from the central government. Thus, the CPWD is not directly involved in their execution but does play an indirect role. The CPWD was also appointed to the technical evaluation committee to assess the Global Housing Technological Challenge. Here, the CPWD evaluated the technologies used for constructing six lighthouse projects that can be replicated by others in the future.

What are the specific issues and challenges faced by the CPWD while working with contractors and different technology partners?

The key challenge is with respect to the quality of contractors, and this needs to be worked upon. Further, there is lack of knowledge on the part of the engineering, procurement and construction contractors as they lack management training as well as technical skills.

What are the strategies that should be adopted to address these issues?

Clients have always been quite unreceptive towards contractors and they are not treated as partners. There is an urgent need to bring in a change in the mindset of people towards contractors. The CPWD is already trying to break the barrier by rewarding contractors along with officers for on-time completion of projects because the success of projects requires efforts by all three parties involved – officers, contractors as well as clients.

Where do you see the CPWD in the next five to 10 years?

The CPWD has prepared a five-year vision document, which proposes a number of initiatives, including the creation of special purpose vehicles to execute redevelopment works through alternative funding. In the coming five years, the growth rate of the CPWD is expected to rise by 25 per cent annually. There are also plans to make only sustainable buildings going forward.

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