Home / Politics / Policy /  Govt opts for cement over bitumen for all new road projects

New Delhi: The government has decided to abandon bitumen—the popular raw material for road construction—in favour of cement for all new road projects, in line with a proposal by transport minister Nitin Gadkari.

The detailed project reports for new road projects will assess the project cost factoring cement as the raw material, according to two ministry officials, who declined to be named.

The ministry has also changed the model for assessing the project cost. The projects will now be evaluated on the basis of the life cycle cost of the project, against the current model of using just the cost of construction.

“We have decided to now start using cement for all new projects that are in the pipeline as long as the cost of construction of a concrete road is not more than 20% higher than that of a road made using bitumen. The idea is that using cement will bring down the cost of maintenance significantly," said one of the officials cited earlier. “So, the consultant will now evaluate the project on the basis of the cost over the life cycle of the project instead of how much it would cost to construct it, which means incorporating the maintenance cost of the project," he added.

Gadkari has proposed the use of cement for road construction on the grounds that it is more durable and cheaper to maintain than bitumen in the long run, even though it is more expensive.

To be sure, cement will be used as the raw material for the project unless the government-appointed consultant for evaluating the project makes a case against it.

“The consultant will have to demonstrate why cement or concrete cannot be used in a particular project, say in case the climatic conditions or topography do not support the use of cement," said the second official.

Further, the ministry has floated a tender to fix an annual rate for cement that will help explore a competitive price for the raw material. The developers will be able to purchase cement for road construction at this price from the cement manufacturer.

Abhaya Agarwal, a partner at EY who oversees the infrastructure practice at the consulting firm in India, said: “We need to experiment with cement roads in India. The life cycle cost of roads made using cement could be better. However, we need to be very clear about the raw material in the bidding documents and be sure the road is for the long term and not dug up frequently. Also, the availability of raw materials for the cement industry like coal and limestone should be taken stock of."

The use of cement will be supported for all projects bid under all models—BOT (build-operate-transfer) toll, EPC (engineering-procurement-construction) and BOT annuity.

“Concrete roads are better in many ways, and if constructed well, the life is much better. While the upfront cost is higher, the life cycle costs can be similar to bituminous roads, provided the cement can be sourced at reasonable rates. Designing a concrete road though is a little more complex. Also, driving on a concrete road can be rougher and tyres’ wear-and-tear can be more, but with suitable covering, that can also be taken care of, at least partly," said Parvesh Minocha, group managing director at infrastructure consultancy Feedback Infra Pvt. Ltd. “The real issue is of laying concrete roads—equipment, expertise and the care it needs. Not many construction companies are well-experienced in this. And removing construction defects is a lot tougher."

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