Infra companies take slow, steady steps to resume work on sites, scaling up may take time

MUMBAI: Infrastructure companies have resumed work at some sites, albeit with a leaner workforce, with the relaxation in lockdown given to them by the government that kicked in on Monday, but industry executives said scaling up operations would take time.

While the government allowed construction activity, with specific guidelines, to be resumed from April 20 in an attempt to ease the lockdown so that economic activities can pick up, companies are still facing several roadblocks from shortage of workers and movement of materials to implementing social distancing norms and meeting local authorities’ conditions.

“The industry is facing heavy shortage of field staff, and the worry is that if transportation starts, many more labourers will go back home,” said Vinayak Chatterjee, founder chairman of integrated infrastructure service firm Feedback Infra. “The other worry is the local authorities have certain demand regarding how to operate the sites. Then there are challenges regarding movement of material,” he told ET.

“There will be hiccups, but they will be sorted out over time,” said Chatterjee who heads industry body CII’s national infrastructure council.

Big companies including Larsen & Toubro and Tata Projects have started some activity at a few sites, and are awaiting permissions from local authorities for some sites, industry sources said.

L&T resumed some activity at the ambitious coastal road projects in Mumbai on Monday with a small team restarting equipment and testing them, two industry executives told ET. The company declined to comment.

“There is readiness to work. Wherever we have approval from local authorities, we have started,” said Vimal Kejriwal, managing director and chief executive officer of KEC International, the flagship infrastructure company of RPG Enterprises. “Ramping up will take time since we have to maintain social distancing and other precautions. The only concern now is that we have enough material for now, but if the logistics issues are not resolved soon, there may be a problem after 10-15 days,” he said.

Infrastructure companies are working on prioritising projects and preparing strategies to work with leaner teams and supply chain constraints, industry players said. Mega projects and projects of strategic importance will be given priority, they said.

Companies are also exploring ways to improve productivity at sites despite leaner workforce using technology and digital platforms.

“We are confident about overcoming this new challenge through emphasis on technological solutions and other proactive precautionary measures,” said Himanshu Chaturvedi, chief strategy officer at Tata Projects. “We have redrawn our project execution strategies to ensure minimal workforce interaction at various project sites.”

Infrastructure companies have already been facing the heat due to muted order inflow and slowdown in project execution. The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to only increase the uncertainties.

At a time when private capex in the country was anyway weak, the infrastructure sector is looking at the government to boost investment in the sector.

Source Article

Lois C. Ferrara

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