Some Facts On Civil Work

Dr S Chinnaswamy (Late)

By B S Ranganath

I happened to spend some time ten years ago with Dr S Chinnaswamy – Former Additional Director General, CPWD, Govternment of India (around his retirement time). He was talking about his entity, Gooly Consultancy services (GCS), with its Head Office located in J.P. Nagar, Bangalore, Karnataka, India. I found the conversation interesting from the point of view of laymen, who get cheated in many ways in the course of construction of their own house.

Mohan Muniswamaiah (who is also a structural engineer, with post graduation from abroad), son-in-law of Dr S Chinnaswamy, shocked me by his message on 17-MAR-2018 that his father-in-law is no more. I never expected the said demise so early, as I kept contemplating another visit to Gooly Consultancy services one of these days, to obtain clarity on the human interest component I had in mind, to introduce in this blog.

Mohan Muniswamaiah

GCS is an ISO 9001:2008 Certified and NABL (National Accreditation Board for Laboratories) Accredited multi-disciplinary laboratory and consultancy firm based at Bangalore-India, with branch offices all over Karnataka and project offices at Gujarat and Tamilnadu. The firm is offering consultancy services in Architecture, Planning, Infrastructure, Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Project Management, Quality Auditing, Monitoring, Evaluation etc. Dr S Chinnaswamy has been the backbone of these technologies, and would have really helped me to improve this blog immensely.

There is no way now, and hence what I narrate will be the essence of my oral discussion that has happened when my blog idea was not disclosed to him.

Futility of finding faults 

The supervisory staff members (comprising technical people representing the builder, architect, RCC designer etc) are the habituated fault finders.  Though they are squarely responsible for the mistakes taking place in building construction sites, they put all the blame on contractor to find escape route for themselves.

Posh premises are the heavenly place to run any business.  But people involved in constructing the same premises must have gone through a hellish experience, as it is impossible to complete civil work in one go, without making mistakes.  There could be a flaw in issuance of the correct drawing, an item may miss out due to oversight going through drawings, or a grid line may go here or there while setting out.  Contractor alone cannot be responsible for all that.

A contractor said ‘no’ to the usual M S Plates, and invested on a vast quantum of marine plywood, as he was supposed to ensure form finish (surface on which plastering is not permissible) for the ceilings.  But the engineer from builder’s side began raising a hue and cry within 2-3 repetitions, over continued usage of the said shuttering material. It was affordable to invest on a further stock of plywood only after 15 repetitions.  After weeks and months of ignominy, contractor informed the builder in plain terms that he be allowed to decide on materials for civil work he has agreed to do, and let outside supervision be restricted to check the lines and levels.  Positive progress came into the picture only after the builder’s engineer restricted himself, to check the lines and levels.

In another project, builder and architect in unison agreed to the contractor’s proposal on procurement of door, window and ventilator frames.  Contractor precisely followed the index of door / window / ventilator openings available on the drawing, and dumped at site the entire requirement of the project, much before commencement of masonry work.  Masonry was erected strictly as per drawing, again with approval in unison by both builder and the architect.  But when it was found that a large number of door / window / ventilator frames were fitting into the openings provided in the masonry, he who got the blame was the contractor.  Openings normally have an allowance of 20mm on all sides of the frame taking into consideration the plaster thickness, but in this case there was no scope for the said allowance as there were RCC shear walls.

Construction community bestows such a status, according to which architects are never at mistake!  But in the above case architect should have taken the blame on himself, instead of making the contractor a scapegoat.  The sample door / window / ventilator produced by the contractor had sizes of frame, shutter, panel etc exactly as per detailed drawing issued by the architect.  But the architect pointed his finger towards the contractor’s engineer (who is on field caring about progress alone exposing him to the ruthless heat, dust and downpour), expecting him to get back and tell that there was no scope for plaster allowance as there were RCC shear walls.  Correct judgment in this case is that the architect’s people with better environment (air-condition luxury, freedom from heat and dust, melodious music, etc) should have calculated properly and released a correct drawing, as multi-level checking takes place and 2-3 people sign a drawing.

Damage due to poor vibration of concrete.

A contractor’s life was made miserable due to verbal attack by both architect and RCC designer, during inspection of a mock-up flat.  Every room had the beam offset above masonry and an outburst came from the architect, as his wish was to have an even surface from floor to ceiling.  Contractor cast the roof as per RCC detailed drawing and constructed masonry as per the architectural drawing, and the result was such, there were 200mm wide beams with 100mm thick walls below, causing 100mm wide offsets.  RCC designer expected the contractor’s engineer to revert and inform about the required deviation, which the latter could not do as he lacked the patience and ability to communicate, amidst his rigorous routine.  So there is no point in blaming the contractor, when his work is correct as per drawing.  It is better if RCC designer too asks his own people (who are sophisticated enough working in a posh set up, compared to the constant struggle of site engineers) in office to examine architectural details properly and produce a correct drawing.

Builder need not underestimate Customer 

When left with the option of an out-of-court settlement, a builder in Malleswaram, Bangalore, refunded the amount to the tune of seven percent, to flat-owners.  The refund was towards his inability to provide the promised carpet area as well as the promised inner height of the flat.

Though built-up area was as per agreement, carpet area short-fallen in his apartments as he introduced locksets to strengthen the RCC columns and raised brick masonry to effect evenness of the walls.  He failed to find assured inner height of flats as he increased the thickness of floor finish (to the extent of 75mm against the required 30mm) and ceiling plaster (to the extent of 16mm against the required 6mm), simply to cover-up undulation in RCC slabs.

His problem-redress measures ensured that the final product nevertheless was a strongly built-up flat, though extra brickwork and finishes’ abnormal thickness increased the dead weight on slabs.

Quality assurance is a must to popularize any product, and buildings are no exception.  Building quality standard specifies that a customer should get 85 percent of the carpet area, when he pays 100 percent towards the built-up area.  Say suppose the customer gets a carpet area of only 75 percent – he  becomes eligible to claim 10 percent refund.  Customer will also have the right to inspect when construction is in progress, and seek help of quality experts like GCS, to convince himself about genuineness of all (cement, steel, blocks / bricks, doors, windows etc) that goes into his shelter.  GCS’ laboratories are capable to determine whether strength is according to norms in columns and slabs, even after years elapsed subsequent to the construction.

Keeping these in mind, a builder positively has to update design mix of concrete as and when a new consignment of cement arrives.  He should avoid use of re-rolled steel.  He better adhere strictly to curing period norms.  Always good for him to have construction activity only during day time, as precision instruments may give way and lines / levels go vary causing undulations in slabs, in case of work during nights.

Rethink on civil work during nights

A tall man from construction line called upon contemporaries and said – ’emulate call center culture, for a positive enhancement in the recognition levels.’

Body language of the contemporaries indicated that there is no objection to the statement.  But the emulation could pose a serious quality threat, beside confronting us with adverse effects.
Technically speaking, lines and levels need to be maintained precisely in building construction.  Engineers are equipped with an apparatus called ‘theodolite’ to ensure those.  Theodolites are sensitive to the moisture and produce parallax error, when put to use after the sunset.  This is enough to justify that civil work during nights is unacceptable.

Even otherwise, normal citizen become wild if they are compelled to work during dark hours from sunset to sunrise, though civilization level of those who work in call centres are an exception.  Pick-up and drop, air-conditioning that enable inmates to experience a day-like atmosphere during nights – all these point to a proper adaptability in the call centre community.

I never came across a civil contractor who provides a decent transport to the construction workers. Cannot stop construction workers from consuming liquor after sunset, as they must undergo a rigorous routine during the day.  How they behave after a drink is needless to explain.

Our first cited friend could not complete projects on time as he got addicted to night construction in the past couple of years.  It is time for him to take tips from those who are strict to a routine from 8 AM to 6 PM and are better-off in quality and time management.

 Confidence curbs the delay

Builders engage Project Management Consultants (PMCs) to ensure that the quality parameters are met and the delivery schedules are properly monitored.

I recently came across Gajendra, Project Manager of a PMC firm, engaged in activity (construction of residential apartments) near Whitefield, Bangalore.  He said the project was lagging behind by seven months when he took over.  Customers were demanding money-back or possession of the flat within three months – thus a platform was getting ready for a legal battle.

Builder was convinced that he will be doomed if he continues to depend on a routine that led to the situation.  Total redressal of the situation (inclusive of flats’ hand-over to the customers) in a span of three months appeared impossible to even PMC firms, except the one (in which Gajendra is an employee) which agreed to complete the task.  Then began the trouble-shooting by a PMC brain.  Lacking areas identified on the outset were manpower and material management, for which the builder and the contractor kept blaming each other.

But the real problem was with the technical staff.  Surprisingly, not even a single out of the 50-strong civil engineers knew ‘what he has to do today’.  Each one of them, instead of involvement in a wide spectrum of construction activities, was seen knocking doors of the planning department for small details wasting time unnecessarily.  Why so, in spite of the brimming presence of that many technocrats?

Lack of confidence.  Including the top man from builder’s side, the engineers though they were practical giants, did not possess the software key.  Those who manned the planning department hidden every information in their systems, compelling even the project head to come to them abegging for simple details.  They were just a handful few but were able to exercise control over the entire network, wield their potent password never allowing the whole lot of engineers to open any existing file or save texts/tables in new file.

Damage due to use of re-rolled steel in civil works

As such, Gajendra had to use all his skills to convince that every technical person, including those in planning are working towards a single goal (i.e. completion of the project in three months according to revised schedule) and have right to know every bit of project information.  He had to counter a lot of ego problems – which he did with the help of his long experience.

His presence changed the whole scenerio, as manpower supply and material flow assumed the required order.  A healthy change came into the picture was none other than an enhancement in the prestige level of every engineer in the project.  There is no password threat in the computer network and in the prevailing atmosphere, engineers can exchange ideas easily.  The project is near completion, very much within the revised time target.

 

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