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STEEL IN INFRASTRUCTURE : FOR A BETTER TOMORROW (JUNE 2000)

- By Sandip Pal & Dr. S.R. Mediratta

Sandip Pal is Manager (Civil & Struc.),and Dr.S R Mediratta, is Director General Institute for Steel Development & Growth (INSDAG), Calcutta

Infrastructure development’ is one of the oldest priorities of mankind. Probably it started with the efforts of bush cleaning and shelter building by Adam and Eve, and continued its efforts over the past thousands of years to justify its role in the modern world. Starting from the ancient landmarks like the massive Pyramids, the Great Wall of China or the Grand Trunk Road between Calcutta and Peshawar during the period of Sher Shah; to the recent marvels like the Lincoln Highway (USA), Trans-Siberian Railway (Russia), Patronas Tower (Malaysia) or Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (Japan), ‘Infrastructure’ has always been the lifeline of human prosperity.
Technical breakthroughs, global opportunities and private funding have revolutionized the modern ‘infrastructure development’. Indian economy, with a growth rate of 6-6.8% and a growth potential of 7-8% in coming years is one of the emerging mega powers in today’s world. At the same time, attracting precious foreign direct investment and ‘fast track infrastructure development’ remain the most challenging task before the country, given the changed techno-economic scenario, liberalization of economy and the global competition.
The approach towards ‘infrastructure development’ has become more professional and modern concepts of steel- intensive construction are the subject of interest in India nowadays. Greatly influenced by: BOT/ BOOT mode of contracts; FDI and private funding; fast track buildability; availability of modern equipment; quality-driven output; social and environmental accountability, infrastructure construction will never be the same again. And under the changed scenario steel with its immense potential is becoming the preferred material of construction to most of the Indian designers, architects, builders and owners.

India and its Infrastructure: an Overview
The spectrum of infrastructure covers almost all the areas of modern construction be it housing and buildings; highways and railways; airports and seaports; power and telecommunication; industry and defence; flood and drought control; sports and medical facilities; and finally urban and rural development.
In the post liberalization era (after 1991-92), there has been a tremendous need for total infrastructure revolution. Though a basic necessity, agriculture is no longer the driving force of the economy. Industrialization, urbanization and faster modes of transport etc are on the upsurge. During the last 50 years, population of India has grown 2.5 times but urban India (2nd largest in the world) has grown by 5 times. Today, 30 crore people live in about 3700 towns scattered all over India and one third of this urban population live in about 40 metropolitan cities (with million plus population).

The Road Ahead
To meet the urgent and demanding requirements, a lot needs to be done in terms of infrastructure development for ensuring the basic amenities and improving the quality of life. The 9th Plan Working Group on Housing has estimated the investment for urban housing at Rs.52,600 crores. The India Infrastructure report, 1996 estimates the annual investment need for urban water supply, sanitation and roads at Rs. 28,035 crores for the next ten years. The Central Public Health Engineering has estimated the funds requirement for safe water supply/ sanitation for 100 % coverage of the urban population by 2021 at Rs. 1,72,905 crores. Estimates by M/s RITES indicate that the amount required for urban transport infrastructure investment in cities with population 100,000 or more during the next 20 years would be of the order of Rs. 207,000 crore.
As a part of the shelter component of the national agenda, the Government has estimated that there is a shortage of 13 lakh houses in the rural and 7 lakh in the urban areas in the country, which will require about Rs 4,000 crores. In the power sector there are about 160 private power projects totalling about 67000 MW capacity (approx. Rs 268,000 Crores) at various stages of clearances / execution.
The ambitious national highways development project (Rakesh Mohan Report, June ’96) envisages time and cost- bound implementation of around 36,000 Kms of roadwork over a period of 10 years at an estimated cost of Rs 80200 Crores (‘96 price). This includes the Golden Quadrilateral project (5952 km), the North-South-East-West corridor project (7300 km), about 500 new bridges, 40 bypasses and 2000 km expressways along with widening of existing highways, Sums of above magnitudes cannot be sourced from within the budgetary resources of any Government. Heavy dependence on borrowed capital, and necessity for permitting private/ foreign participation in infrastructure projects will require speedy implementation without time and cost overrun. To achieve this goal, like most of the developed countries, which have solid infrastructure base, we need to adopt the steel intensive or steel-concrete composite construction route. The per capita consumption of steel in India is only 27 kgs, whereas the same is about 15 times higher in USA and about 45 times higher in Singapore.

The Steel Route: Myths and Realities
Steel members with their design flexibility, easy buildability, factory-made quality, ductility, upgrade-ability and broader architectural possibility have immense potential as the preferred construction material in modern India. Meeting serviceability requirements, restoration after disaster damage/ accidents, upgradation of structure due to revised loading standards and replacement of structures at the end of service life are much easier with steel. While steel construction has dominated in the early years, other modes of construction have taken over in the past few years in some sectors. But, steel is still dominant in almost all the industrial structures and construction in remote areas. For longer span construction also, steel is the only alternative. Fortunately, some of the new urban constructions in India have followed the steel route too. The ICICI building (Mumbai), VSNL Tower (Calcutta), some of the flyovers at Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi are only a few examples, while a lot more are in the pipeline.
Steel too has come a long way today and some of the old myths about steel are no longer valid. It is now statistically and otherwise established that the life-span, protection and maintenance of steel structures are comfortably comparable with and in many instances much superior to any other mode of construction. Better quality (high tensile / corrosion resistant/ alloyed etc) and wider variety (rolled and built-up sections / cold formed/ profiled / colour coated sheet / stainless steel / wire ropes etc) steels are easily available today. Import of steel is also possible. Technology for protection of steel is much advanced today and paint systems are available to provide maintenance–free life of about 20-25 years. The design codes are being revised and slowly, the steel construction industry is also building up. The Western Experience Developed economies in the world are taking maximum advantage from increased usage of steel in construction. For example in the UK today, more than 90% of single storey buildings are steel framed and about half of these are portal frames. In multi-storey buildings also, share of steel in the UK, as measured by floor area, has reached a level of 60% against <30% about 15 years ago. As regards commercial buildings, in 1991-92 steelwork construction in the UK had a market share of 59%, in Sweden of 50% and in Netherlands 26%. In industrial buildings, the market share of steelwork construction is reported to be between 77 and 92% in the UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and France. The situation in USA and Japan is almost similar. Steel is widely used in framing, flooring, walling and roofing in residential/ commercial buildings of single/ multi-storey construction. Pre-fabricated buildings and space structures are also commonly used. Fast-build composite construction and slim floor techniques have revolutionized the floor-slab construction. Steel-intensive/ steel-concrete composite bridges became preferred options since the mid-eighties after the publication of BS 5400 codes. In UK today, 35% of total bridges built in 15-20 m span are composite construction. Strategies for India The future for steel intensive construction is promising and steel can be effectively used in various areas of buildings, bridges and other structures. With steep rise in the land-price and population density, cities are growing vertically and new generation steel multi-storeys seem to be the future in the congested metros. Fast build modular construction and prefabricated buildings can save construction time up to 40% and are suitable for both urban and rural applications. Composite flyovers and bridges at crowded metros and busy highways can be cost-effective solutions, the trend of which has already started. Even minor items like steel crash barriers and handrails over flyovers/ bridges, and steel guardrails and elevated road sign arrangements over modern highways/ expressways at regular intervals are now coming up. Steel intensive multi-storyed car parks can provide quick solutions to one of the biggest problems of congested metros. Cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore are building rail based Mass Rapid Transit Systems to take care of much of their urban traffic problem and steel intensive construction can provide the best possible solution (e,g Docklands Light Railway, UK). Railways are the single largest consumers of steel (more than one million tonne per year) in India and steel intensive construction/ application has its own place there. For structures ranging from airport and seaport to warehouses and water pipelines, stadiums and shopping plazas, pedestrian bridges and enabling structures, steel can be the most preferred material of construction in all the areas. Life cycle cost assessment route can be an important criteria for decision-making during infrastructure project evaluation by the project owners (and project partners), justifying the full worth of steel - intensive construction and ensuring minimum disruption to the public life. The present is however tough sailing and needs proper vision and catalytic efforts for the much needed multiplier effect. The exposure and proper awareness about today’s possibilities of steel is rather less among a major part of owners, specifiers, designers and builders. Unlike the BS or Euro Codes, IS/ IRC design Codes lack in proper focus in limit state approach for true cost effectiveness. Efficient sections like parallel/ wide flange beams and jumbo sections (including their high strength variety) are still not manufactured in India. In fact, availability and application of high strength/ weather resistant grade steel and a wider range of efficient sections as mentioned above needs focused attention from all the corners. Proper development of well-organized small and medium sized fabricator sector and the high-build paint sector (for protection and fire resistance) is another important area. The Government and steel manufacturers have also their share of role to play. Fortunately, initiatives have been taken in all the above areas including the code revision, awareness drive and training. To Conclude Speedy infrastructure development will not only provide the basic support to the economy, but will also reshape the feature of India. Steel and steel intensive construction is the future of tomorrow’s infrastructure. It is a reality in the developed countries, what have already passed the phase that India is currently sailing through. With the massive drive in today’s infrastructure building, steel consumption in infrastructure sector will definitely go up. And tomorrow’s skyline will be dominated by steel, the most preferred material of construction by today’s designers and builders. Let’us build the nation with nerves and bones of steel!

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