Interview: Dalbir Singh


Major Dalbir Singh is a man of many parts. He is national secretary, All India Congress Committee, secretary general, NRI Foundation India, a vital member of the Indian Olympic Association. He speaks to INDIA EMPIRE in the capacity of chairman, INCITE, an international conference on construction in New Delhi.

Q: Where does the construction sector stand in today’s emerging India?
A: Construction activity is an integral part of a country’s infrastructure and industrial development. Since it covers a vast spectrum of projects like housing, highways, roads, airports, hospitals, power and irrigation systems, it is obviously the most basic input for all socio-economic development.

Q: How big is the size of the construction industry?
A: Today the size of the industry is in the region of Rs 2,80,000 crore. The industry is riding on a high wave with firms in this sector posting growth between 30-100 per cent during 2004.

Even if we were to invite foreign companies to participate in building infrastructure, you’ll find almost all of them relying on Indian sub-contractors to carry out their contracts

Q: Has the pace of the construction industry growth picked?
A: The UPA Government in its Common Minimum Programme has lived up to its promise of 8 per cent growth rate. This is happening since the construction and infrastructure industry is growing at 12 per cent.

Q: Which is the most important segment in construction that needs to be worked upon?
A: Roads is the biggest area of growth. BOT road projects have been announced to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore. India has more than 3 million km of roads. Road traffic is growing at an annual rate of 7-10 per cent.

Q: What about housing?
A: On the housing front, there is a shortage of 87 million dwelling units in the urban and rural areas. Currently, the improvement trusts, housing boards and development authorities cannot even meet 5 per cent of the requirement. There is a need to step up larger participation of private sector.

Q: The power sector is very important to India’s overall growth…
A: Studies indicate that to support the projected growth of 8 per cent and above per annum, the increase in power generation should be more than 11 per cent annually. Investments required for building up the kind of capacity are huge, and private sector has a role to play in this scheme of things. According to a blue print prepared by the Ministry of Power, a total investment of Rs 8,00,000 crore would be required to increase the generating capacity and Rs 2,00,000 crore would be essential to create an associated nation-wide power grid.

Q: Much is being spoken of urban infrastructure. What are your views?
A: Urban infrastructure is another area that is witnessing accelerated activity. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank will be supporting water supply and sanitation projects worth about 2 billion dollars over the next few years.

Q: Are our construction workers performing at par with those in developed nations?
A: An MIT study has thrown light on an unfortunate fact that the productivity of an Indian construction worker is very low compared to other workers. If you take the productivity of an American construction worker as 100, then it is 50 in Japan, 48 in Germany and 5 in India. Increased productivity means increased savings.

Q: Do you have a road map in mind for the construction industry?
A: We would like to look at this industry as creating assets. It is absolutely essential to the growth of infrastructure in this country, on which rests major portion of the GDP growth.

Q: What is the biggest plus that you can see at present?
A: It is like this. Even if we were to invite foreign companies to participate in building infrastructure, you’ll find almost all of them relying on Indian sub-contractors to carry out their contracts.

November 2006

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