Application of Trenchless in Multilaterally Funded Urban Infrastructure Projects in India

Urban infrastructure projects, owing to their physical locations, are prone to the risk of time and cost overruns. Such overruns can be arrested with timely intervention of trenchless techniques. Though, there is a general sensitization about TT, there are several unresolved issues like under-sensitization, over expectations regarding technique deliverables, under estimation of working costs and likewise that need to be addressed.

With multilaterally funded projects, where the project delays can increase the financial risks substantially owing to foreign exchange exposure, resolution of such issues becomes imperative. IndSTT, in collaboration with Asian Development Bank (ADB), is conducting one such program where the project officers shall be trained in these matters. The article discusses the subject and the proposed training program with the help of a sample case story.


Urban infrastructure construction projects can face time and cost overruns due to manmade, as well as natural reasons or impediments. Some such impediments include unfavorable or unforeseen ground conditions or physical limitations like inaccessible work locations and likewise, leading to reduction of work pace and stoppage of works. Conventional construction methods, at times, fail to deliver desired results within planned time frame, which could have been achieved using trenchless technology otherwise. As such, delays may spell doom for any project — a prime concern for project owners and related stakeholders like financial institutions is their mitigation. It is important that, if needed, trenchless be applied in such projects from the start itself. Alternatively, appropriate provisions are built in at the planning stage.

Change of technology, from open-cut to trenchless, during the execution period is somewhat difficult and torturous at times. Prime cause is the long drawn-out planning and tendering process. Initially such projects are planned as conventional projects with budget values in commensuration with such planning with very limited or at times negligible provisions of cost overruns to start with. Subsequently when difficulties in executing the projects are faced, a quick-fix solution by changing over to trenchless is desired. As the finances, at times, are not available the whole process gets delayed leading to project time and cost overruns. The need therefore is to enhance the sensitization about the prowess of TT within the project implementing team so that while they are planning any project necessary provisions to address such need are built in the project execution plan. To elaborate further let us discuss the case story of a sewerage project which got delayed substantially.

Case Story of a Delayed Project

Recently, IndSTT’s opinion was sought in a delayed construction project. As the project is still under construction, partial details are being withheld to protect commercial interests of engaged parties. In this case, the local government authority is constructing a road corridor. The corridor project also has a component of trunk sewer of various diameters ranging from 300 to 1,600 mm. This sewerage main trunk work is a part of sewerage project being executed under an Indian Government financing scheme titled Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), and approximately 60 percent of the project cost has already been spent on the works done till date. However approximately 40 percent sewer laying work, at different locations of the corridor, is still to be completed.
Regarding the execution difficulties, project authorities informed IndSTT that the work of laying of sewerage main trunk in corridor at many of the locations through conventional open-cut methods, which was the selected working method, has become impossible due to following impediments:

1)    Site constraints/encroachments of various natures at some of the locations.
2)    Necessity of keeping continuous traffic movement at road junctions/intersections.
3)    Soil strata encountered (hard rock).
4)    Presence of underground utilities, mainly functional water lines of various sizes varying from 300 mm to 1,200 mm, and telecom network lines at different locations.

Since the laying of through open-cut method, as envisaged in the present working methodology, as well as in contract conditions, was not possible, IndSTT was requested to visit and ascertain the requirements. Thus on the request, the site was visited at every identified problematic location of corridor. As required, inspection was conducted at hindrance locations where due to problem/constrains as stated above, project work of laying sewerage main trunk was getting impeded.

After concluding the site visit, a discussion was held with the stakeholders to evaluate the problems of each location individually. Primary point highlighted was about the essentiality of the construction of sewerage main trunk at the identified locations to make the trunk sewers functional as substantial lengths of trunk sewer have already been completed and non completion of the balance lengths were delaying the road construction.

Complications Facing the Project

In addition to the difficulties indicated in the previous section additional difficulties facing the project include but not limited to contractual issues, change in pipe material, equipment mobilization at a short notice and oncoming monsoons.

Present Status

Based on the site visit report, it was obvious that the difficult sections be constructed through trenchless methods. But the cost of executing the same was coming way beyond the remaining funds from JnNURM. In addition to the cost and time overrun, another complication facing the project is the time limit for the funds from JnNURM, as they will be available only till early next year, as informed. IndSTT has submitted its recommendations to project authority which is now pursuing the matter.

Financing of Urban Infrastructure Projects

Urban infrastructure projects fall in one infrastructure segment that is receiving immense attention from civic authorities, as well as various government departments. Generally being welfare or social projects, they have limitations of lower returns on investment and longer gestation periods. Commercial borrowings therefore becomes unviable and financing support from Multilateral Development Agencies becomes one of the major funding alternative for urban infrastructure projects in India since it enables the project promoters in accessing funds on non-commercial terms. The non-commercial nature of this financing enables the borrower in achieving financial closure of the project without substantial increase of the cost of services. Complete financial planning, however, depends on the project duration and should any project fail to get completed within the stipulated time or cost, gains of non-commercial borrowings would be lost.

In addition to this, the capital lockup time also goes up leading to reduction of the number of projects under finance by the specific Multilateral Development Agency with the finite amount urban infrastructure projects, owing to their physical locations, are prone to the risk of time and cost overruns due to reasons both man made as well as natural. Some of such impediments include unfavorable or unforeseen ground conditions or physical limitations like inaccessible work locations and likewise, leading to reduction of work pace and stoppage of works even.

Through the relentless campaign of IndSTT, sensitization levels about the virtues of TT have enhanced and several stakeholders have started considering its application in such projects. Asian Development Bank (ADB) is one such financing agency, involved in infrastructure financing in India, which has decided to enhance the sensitization about TT with its borrower organizations. It has planned training of engineers and officers of its borrowers and related stakeholders in collaboration with IndSTT.

Target Projects

The following is the partial list of ADB Urban projects that are under implementation in India Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project

  • Urban Water Supply and Environment Improvement in Madhya Pradesh
  • Multi-sector Project for Infra. Rehabilitation in Jammu & Kashmir
  • Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project
  • Rajasthan Urban Sector Dev. Investment Program
  • Uttarakhand Urban Sector Investment Program
  • South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development – Sikkim
  • North Karnataka Urban Sector Dev. Inv- Project
  • National Capital Region Urban Infrastructure Financing Facility
  • North Eastern Urban Project
  • Infrastructure Investment Program for Tourism – Himachal and Punjab
  • North-Eastern Region Capital Cities Dev. Investment Project – Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and, Sikkim

In addition, Urban projects are likely to be implemented in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, etc.

Trenchless Training Program

The executing agencies implementing urban projects are engaged in lot of works to be executed in difficult terrain and a minor slip or fault leads to complete project failure. For an example, if the project framing engineers of the sample project had envisioned the difficulties beforehand and had conducted appropriate geotechnical, as well as aboveground investigations, they could have avoided the project delays at this stage. They might have chosen a technique suiting the ground conditions which could have been more expensive compared to open cut method but that might have ensured their success. Rectifying a situation at a late stage is always more expensive than starting properly. Trenchless, therefore needs to be considered beforehand rather than adopting it late and paying penalty at that stage.

Construction work in fact is a stage wise activity sequence and for a successful project implementation an urban engineer must be sensitized in the following areas:

(a)    Basics of Trenchless Technology Techniques;
(b)    Subsurface Utility Engineering and Geotechnical techniques;
(c)    Pipe Line Condition Assessment techniques;
(d)    Technology Selection Process;
(e)    Technique Specifications
(f)    Contract Conditions for Trenchless Techniques focused at Consultants as well as Contractors
(g)    Project Economics
(h)    Project Execution processes
(i)    Project Supervision processes
(j)    Project conclusion processes.

Based on the above chartered areas, IndSTT had a detailed workshop where it interacted with the representatives of some of the borrower organizations recently and has structured a training program to be conducted Aug. 9-10, 2011, at New Delhi. The training is proposed to be a mix of academic lectures and case stories presented by the respective agency. It is expected to provide enough information to the participating officers and engineers for them to prepare their projects and get them executed. IndSTT is currently inviting trenchless stakeholders who would be interested to promote the specific trenchless techniques of their interest and falling within the above identified areas.


Time and cost overruns in multilaterally funded urban infrastructure projects is a difficult situation for all the involved stakeholders like project owners, executing agency, and funding agency. Project realization depends upon successful planning, site investigation, usage of proper technique suiting project requirements, properly defined specifications, appropriate contractual conditions, well documented project execution and supervision plan, and finally adequate project completion plans.

While these are important for any project some of the points become critical when we are considering trenchless as failure at any stage would lead to a similar fate as the case story project where even after investing close to 60 percent of the funds the project remains incomplete and runs the risk greater consequential losses. Through the forthcoming training program for ADB, IndSTT aims to empower the participants about these factors so that project time and cost overruns can be avoided. Readers are invited to send their valuable inputs to IndSTT for this training program. Should it be desired, readers can join IndSTT in this program as well.

This article was written by Prof. Niranjan Swarup is executive director of the Indian Society for Trenchless Technology (Indstt), India.
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