Interview: Sunil Mahajan




Sunil Mahajan, additional director with the Construction Industry Development Council-set up jointly by the Planning Commission of India and the Indian construction industry—talks to INDIA EMPIRE ahead of INCITE 2006, an international conference in New Delhi

Q: What are the main challenges before the construction industry?
A: There are 33 million people engaged in the construction industry of whom 27 million are construction workers. There is a great need to upgrade and recognize their skills in order to improve the quality of construction in the country.

Q: What steps has CIDC taken in this direction?
A: We are partnered by IGNOU since 1998 and certifying skilled and semi-skilled workers.

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: How many workers have been certified till date?
A: About 63,000 workers. Even the Ministry of Labour is involved in the process.

Q: But aren't most construction companies in India still working with a work force that is largely not certified?
A: Our objective is to keep improving upon the present scenario, and we are making a huge headway in educating the construction community in the advantages of using a certified work force. Already, in the Military Engineering Services, 25 per cent of the work force is certified. The National Highways Authority of India has accepted our proposal for using certified workers. These two bodies are large engagers of construction workers.

Q: Any states where you have made a breakthrough?
A: The Government of Madhya Pradesh has taken a cabinet-level decision to engage 5 per cent certified workers in all projects involving the state departments starting 2007. This will increase by 5 per cent every year. MoUs have been signed with Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, and of course Madhya Pradesh.

Q: What about the supervisors? They need to be certified by an apex body as well…
A: True. For training of junior supervisors, we have tied up with the Glasgow Caledonian University in United Kingdom. The training will take place at several ITIs spread over Haryana (1), Rajasthan (6), Madhya Pradesh (16), Bihar (6). These venues can be used for workers' training and certification.

Q: Apart from this huge construction work force, what are CIDC's skill-upgradation plans for engineers?
A: The CIDC has worked out an initiative between the Michigan State University and IIT Chennai to upgrade skills of engineers at construction sites. It may not be out of place to mention that nearly 99 per cent engineers who received their degrees during the last two to three decades are way out of date with modern technology.

Q: So a technologically up-to-date engineering community will bring in more projects to India?
A: It'll help. Currently, there is a Mutual Recognition Accord among 8 nations when it comes to recognizing their engineering work force. At any time, these nations may bar Indian engineers and engineering firms from working on mega projects.

Q: Engineers in this country do not qualify as professionals. It is an anomalous situation because engineers are highly in demand both within and outside India…
A: You are absolutely right. The 20 lakh strong engineering community does not have a professional status. An Engineers' Bill is in place in Parliament. The day it becomes an Act, we'll have professional status.

Q: The industry is mired in litigation…
A: About Rs 50,000 crore worth of construction on an average is stuck up in litigation in India. The dispute process lasts an average of 9 years. World over, studies have shown, that institutional form of arbitration is best. We have joined hands with a Singapore body to facilitate speedy arbitration.

November 2006

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