In line with the dynamics of the road infrastructure in India.

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Subsurface engineering is the buzzword. Here are the details

Newer technologies have not only helped address India’s infrastructure issues but also helped in many other domains, said Union Minister for Transport, Nitin Gadkari, while inaugurating a School of Subsurface Engineering by MIT World Peace University (MIT-WPU).

“There is huge potential for subsurface engineering in highway tunnel projects in India. In Jammu & Kashmir alone, there are about 20 tunnel projects currently being implemented, which could absorb subsurface engineers,” he said.

The inauguration was preceded by a panel discussion during which experts spoke about where India stands in imparting skills and why subsurface engineering is the need of the hour. The discussion, moderated by R N Bhaskar of FPJ, included subsurface engineering experts-Hans Eartl, Managing Director, D2 Consult, Austria and Satish Paretkar, Director AFCONS who played a key role in the Rohtang Pass tunnelling project; Shashikant D Limaye – Advisor, Maha Metro Railway Corporation; Vinod Kumar, the Hydro head at Gamon India; Prassana Gode, Swen Consultant and key player in the designing of Dubai airport and the Burj Khalifa and Vijay K Kanjlia, Secretary General, Tunneling Association of India.

Bustling Infrastructure

Today, more than 950 kilometres of projects in India are already under execution, while over 2,500 kilometres of projects are at the planning stage. There is, indeed, a severe shortage of skilled manpower or subsurface engineering experts.

“India is at a take-off stage in its infrastructure and civil projects in sectors as diverse as transport, hydro power, irrigation and sewage. Although, there are professionals in subsurface engineering, India is facing a dire deficit in terms of skill. We at MIT-WPU recognise this gap, and have therefore introduced this platform to formally teach subsurface engineering at this new school,” said Rahul Karad, Executive President at MIT World Peace University.

Why Tunnelling?

While open works may be simpler to execute, these offer limited scope for expansion. There is a severe shortage of land to meet the transport and infrastructure demands of tomorrow. Litigation over land ownership and environmental clearances are making things tougher. “The land below the surface does not belong to people. Simultaneously, with the introduction of new technologies, tunnelling in the subsurface is increasing and has gained increased acceptance,” said Prassana Gode.

There are a number of ongoing tunnelling projects in the Himalayan region and elsewhere in India and each project starts with a study of the topography. “Underground investigation in India has become better through use of the latest geo-physical techniques, which help to avoid surprises and optimise construction activities,” informed Vijay Kanjlia.

“In some projects, however, geological investigations have continued over 20 long years and yet, when under execution, problems were encountered,” said Vinod Kumar, adding “for instance, a project in Jammu and Kashmir was initiated in 2003, and tunnelling was intended to be completed by 2008. It is still not done and the date has been extended to 2022.”

Paretkar said there has to be a balance.

“The Rohtang tunnel changes every 50-100 metres. It is full of surprises in spite of all the investigations. Therefore, there needs to be a limit to the time taken for geological investigations. There must be a balance between planning and execution,” he said.

Tendering Process

Most tunnelling projects in India are executed through contractors and any project, small or big starts with the tendering process, which is a big challenge. “We have been in construction in India since the last four years and the expectations from tendering contract practices are not realistic,” said Hans Eartl of D2 Consult.

Adding to it, Shashikant Limaye said, “In Kolkata, contracts were once awarded without having the land in hand for which the contractors waited for two and a half years. Once they started the work, it was completed in 66 days. Naturally, the delays caused escalation in costs.”

Selection of Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs)

Tunnelling through boring machines is expensive and the use of latest technology in tunnelling entails high initial costs, which the job owner is required to bear. On the other hand, the contractor is required to indemnify the owner against any possible damage to buildings on the surface during the construction. Timely completion ultimately justifies the high cost of equipment. Delays lead to cost overruns.

“Selection of TBMs is important as use of the right mechanised equipment helps to speed up the work in difficult terrains, especially hard rock, and ensures higher productivity. However, there is no concept of TBMs in India. Discussions on selection of TBMs is necessary,” said Parnetkar.

With expansion of cities underground, tunnels cutting through hard rock and mountains are a complex engineering marvel with specific manpower needs.

With urbanisation and growing congestion, expansion of cities to ease transport needs is going underground.

Developing Expertise

The school will have a postgraduate course for students as a certificate course of three months or a more detailed M. Tech programme of two years as well as PhD programmes. Students can apply for these courses online and offline.