Actionable insights on equities, fixed-income, macros and personal finance Start 14-Days Free Trial
Actionable investing insights Get Free Trial

Six Concrete Ways India Can Build A Better Future

I write for Quartz India, on how India can build a better future by focussing on doing things better.

We pay too little attention to building things better, so that they last, and they cost less to maintain. So that they stay built, and free us up to focus on building other newer things in the future. We often don’t address the “better” piece in a budget and, in order to protect the incumbent, established and inefficient industries, actually disincentivize newer technology.

Here are a few things that we can change.

Making better roads and bridges with high-density polystyrene

The very material that we call “thermocol” is very rigid and tough, at a higher density. It has been used since 1972 in Norway to construct roads, as a filler that can replace soil or gravel, while we widen or build new roads. It resists compression, but the most important part is that it is very light and easily transportable (and can be cut on site). Also called Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS) or Geofoam, it has been used to build fills for bridges, for stadium seating and even for constructing houses.

EPS is light and so doesn’t load the underlying soil, and its rigidity allows for roads that don’t sink easy. And because it’s easy to cut and place on site, it reduces construction time and labour cost by not involving earth moving machinery, doing area-constrained expansion of existing roads and also for building in any weather.

The cost savings might be substantial in terms of reduced labour requirements (more road per person employed)—a highway in the US saw a cost reduction from $1 million to $160,000.

Read the whole piece. Do let me know what you think!

  • Kaushik says:

    We are talking here short term fix.
    Any good road needs a good study & preparation of subsoil. Replacing the top asphalt with a catchy ESR will not make things turn heavens.
    In India we have a big variation of temperature as well as humidity in a year, so conditioning of subsoil is more important(unlike Norway).
    We should not discard ASPHALT because it is a very good material which has proven to take the beating from mother nature.
    What we need to do here is a very standard modern quality measurement of PWD processes and its enforcement while preparing subsoil and asphalt. The IRS codes are old and they are not prepared for 40ton truck tires what goes through our roads daily. The road codes, signaling systems and its enforcement needs total overhauling to make any difference visible.

  • daemonkane says:

    This may be viable in northern latitudes, or your super cool home town, but I cannt imagine what will happen to this material in places such as Orisa, Andhra and Vidharbha and Rajashthan where we consistently experience temperatures above 43 deg C in summer continuously for periods of over 50 days at a stretch. It may simply degenerate and crumble like the regular thermocol. We should not use it without proper tests.

    • Obviously this has to be tested, and I think the higher density polystyrene perform comfortably upto 80 degrees C. Anyhow they are not exposed to the surface (are only a lightweight fill). There are other things – insect infestation (for which you have to chemically treat the EPS foam), incline shifts, lateral movement, subsoil drop effects and all sorts of things for which there are different mechanisms to fix. Btw, below the surface the temp is much lower (it’s typically the surface asphalt or tar that gets the brunt of the temp and typically radiates it outward)
      One of the applications is to help with road building or expansion in mountainous terrain, and to help with landslide protection, to create embankments, slopes etc. A heavier fill (soil, mud, clay) usually bears load on the mountain and causes soil shift, which can cave the road and cause slides furhter down.
      Another thing is that any gaps due to subsoil erosion can be patched by injecting foam (there’s expandable foam that will fill when injected from the top). So a road X-Ray or sorts can identify gaps after a while and this can be fixed through injectibles.

  • Srinivas says:

    Thought provoking, yes. CTRL C & CTRL V, No.
    The point of the article, to me is to revisit the processes which we are adopting and improve them for the current conditions.
    In Mumbai, the roads are routinely laid every year, often more than once. There is a big eco system thriving on this budget. Someone jokigly said that there is a condition in the road laying contract stating that the road should not last for more than a rain. True to this joke, roads are paved neatly during summer and the first rain washes the landfill away. There is much hue and cry for few months and during winter and summer, the pot holes are refilled.
    I remember seeing a caltex building in 1994. It was constructed way back in 1960s and not a door hinge became loose, leave aside comming out. I feel this is where we are lacking or not paying enough attention to. Quality. As was rightly pointed out in comments, the road laying principles which were originated long back may be a reason for the issue. With industrialisation, the weight of trucks increased and obviously better strategies are needed for improving the quality. But who will bell the cat?
    To conclude, we need a visionary leadership which can see far into the future, above the petty politics and lobbies and take action.
    Is this too much to expect?