Better drafted contracts and pre-tender geological surveys needed for successful tunnelling projects: Pankaj Kumar Bansal, MD, Chennai Metro Rail Ltd.

7 October, 2017

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Better drafted contracts and pre-tender geological surveys needed for successful tunneling projects: Pankaj Kumar Bansal, MD, Chennai Metro Rail Ltd.

Tunneling industry seeks contractual flexibility, better allocation of risks

The Indian tunneling industry wants enhanced contractual flexibility and better allocation of risks as it gears up to handle more complex and difficult projects, especially those in the Himalayan region.

The model contract is very essential as 90 percent clauses are standardised and the rest depends on the type of industry. Even financiers should become part of contracts so that they could invoke force majeure provision instead of dragging defaulting borrowers to the bankruptcy court, a move that could result in lenders taking up to 70 percent cuts, said Suman Jyoti Khaitan, partner, Suman Khaitan Co, while speaking at Assocham’s conference, “Underground Space and Tunnelling: Challenges and Technology”.

He said raising money from banks is no longer easy as risks of projects getting stuck have made lenders cautious about financing infrastructure projects.

Pankaj Kumar Bansal, MD, Chennai Metro Rail, talked about growing manpower skills in tunneling, which has resulted in a significant reduction in dependence on foreign hands. “5 years back, we had 80 percent foreigners and 20 percent Indians for tunneling work, today it is the other way around,” Bansal said.

Emphasising the significance of tunneling in construction of highways earlier, Sanjay Jaju, finance director, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation, said, “When you build a tunnel rather than over-ground highways, there is a minimum damage to the local ecology, which is very important in the Himalayan regions. You will also find long-term economic benefits.”

But he said the Indian industry still lacks in technological expertise in tunneling. “India still needs to build a lot of expertise when it comes to tunneling projects, especially those into the Himalayan regions,” Jaju added.

“We would be happy to introduce our knowledge and companies engaged in tunneling business,” said Helge Tryti, commercial counselor, Norway Embassy.

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Turkey, Sakir Ozlan Torunlar, also gave an overview of his country’s technological capabilities in tunneling.

Moderating a panel discussion organised as part of the conference, M. M. Madan, Chairman, ASSOCHAM Hydro, and Tunnelling Group, said the domestic industry needs to change its mindset and tap local talent. He said those who have worked on tunneling for hydropower projects can also help with the excavation of tunnels for highways and rails, as there is not much difference as far as the basic work is concerned.

Ashutosh Chandwar, co-chairman, Tunnelling Group, Assocham and Sr Vice President, ILFS, stressed the need for the domestic industry to upgrade its design capabilities. “We need to focus more on in-house design for tunnels,” Chandwar said.